PLEASE VISIT THE NEW SITE FOR LATEST NEWS
Editor Dean M. Drinkel's author interviews continue today with yours truly:
For our anthology “12 Dark Days: One Hell Of A Christmas” (published by Alex Johnson’s Nocturnicorn Books and supported by John Gilbert / FEAR) – Stephanie drew Day 10 (Lords A Leaping). I’ve always been impressed by Stephanie’s work ethic, she produces quality work well ahead of time and has always taken any editorial questions / queries / comments I have on board – she’s a pleasure to work with. Anyway, all the contributors were asked a series of questions about either their story or Christmas in general. Here are Stephanie’s answers:
Author Name: Stephanie Ellis
Story Title: The House of Lords
Social media: http://stephellis.weebly.com/
Q: What is the first book which made you cry?
SE: Books affect me deeply but only in recent years have they actually been able to make me tearful, and when I say recent I mean really in the past 23 years since I’ve had children. I think the whole maternal, hormonal thing changes your empathy levels considerably. “If This is a Man” by Primo Levi, “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” by John Boyne, “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens – that moment when Sydney Carton takes the little girl’s hand as they approach the guillotine gets me every time. It would have been easier if you asked what was the first song that ever made you cry, easy – “Puff the Magic Dragon.”
Q: What do you not like about Christmas?
SE: How early it starts, ugh. Growing up, Christmas was always heralded by the sound of Slade on the radio and you would know that in a couple of weeks it would be Christmas. Now it starts at the end of summer, songs that were once special have become tired as they are put on loop and there is that endless drip, drip, drip of buy, buy, buy. What world do these advertisers think families live in when you have 3 children and limited income – buy a sofa, buy each child a laptop, get that giant tv, the latest mobiles. No, I’ve never succumbed to that (couldn’t afford it, wouldn’t do it if I could) but my children have grown up surrounded by families who have gone that route and had to suffer the bragging that goes with it. I am not religious but still believe this is a time for family and kindness to each other and compassion for others. A message sadly becoming lost in this materialistic binge-fest. I am also sad that those whose faith is the real point of Christmas are being side-lined for fear of offending other religions. Tolerance appears to work more for some and not for others. Can’t we just all get along? It’s a big world and room for all.
Q: Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
SE: Big egos do hurt writers. I’ve come across writers online who precede everything they write with ‘award-winning’, ‘number one’ or whatever title they decide they deserve. When I first began to be published, I would see these claims and feel very intimidated but then you read their work, ponder its claim to the titles it holds, dig deeper, find the award was some obscure event long ago and the writing turns out to be pretty poor. I feel let down, almost cheated when that happens. Writers with big egos feed the self-doubt of others and alienate readers who expect more and end up with less.
Q: Are you friends with other writers and do they help you become a better writer?
SE: Yes. It has been very much an online friendship, although I have met a small number in person now and hope to improve on that over the years. In particular, a group of flash writers, the FlashDogs have been an enormous source of support, advice and constructive criticism. Whenever I have achieved a publication or success, they have been there to cheer me on and I have made sure to do the same for them. I never see them as competition but as companions. I’ve joined one writer, David Shakes, in a partnership at THE INFERNAL CLOCK, and he has been particularly supportive – and amazingly we’ve actually met. So far, we have co-edited a couple of anthologies together – “The Infernal Clock” and “CalenDark” - and hope to develop more of our own individual writings under THE INFERNAL CLOCK banner. He is a very good writer, so be sure to check him out when you can. Others I have met via editorial work at the HORROR TREE, the online writer’s resource for speculative fiction. I’ve developed contacts with writers so that as well as feedback on submitted stories, we look at each other’s work beyond HORROR TREE, support each other with reviews and share the highs and lows we face. Writing is no longer such a lonely business. As writers, we are all in it together.
Q: Describe your typical Christmas Day.
SE: Now the children are all pretty much grown up, my youngest is 16, it is very much more relaxed. It’s downstairs and wishing my eldest daughter Happy Birthday first before her day gets lost amongst the Christmas malarkey. Then breakfast and presents, preparing dinner. I don’t do the whole military precision thing. We have a Jamie Oliver beef recipe which is wonderful and easy, stick the veg on (which has been prepared the night before) and then start to relax. After dinner, normally mid-afternoon or whenever it’s ready – again we don’t worry about it, I take up residence on the sofa with whatever book I’ve got for Christmas and don’t move until I’ve finished it. My husband Geraint, supplies me with drink and chocolate during this time but I ignore everything on telly and pretty much everything around me. Getting lost in a book like that is a real treat. And yes I do speak to my family on the phone as well. Note, all this is a stark contrast to growing up in a pub. As a child I could only open the presents at the bottom of the bed. Anything else had to wait until the pub shut, normally 2-2.30pm; my parents had half a day off a year. Dad would be messing about for ages in the pub even after that so Mum would send me back down to get him. Then it would be dinner and finally presents. I’ve grown up in a world where we learned to put others first, when it’s your livelihood, you have to.
Q: Do you base your characters on real people and if so, have they noticed?
SE: I wouldn’t dare! I work in a school and if I did that and anyone read my stories there would be real issues. Sometimes some characteristics or behaviours might seep into my work but generally I think it’s safer to completely divorce my characters from those I know. Plus I wouldn’t want to do something that might hurt another, especially so publicly.
Q: How did you select the names for your characters?
SE: I find this really hard. I am aware I tend to gravitate to very traditional names and worry I overuse them, even though they are perfectly normal in society. The story title in this instance gave me the surname for my family. At first I was thinking about MPs in our government and those who sit in the House of Lords. I turned this round to have a family with the surname Lord and referenced the House of Lords as a pun. The names for my two main characters, Daniel and Rebecca were chosen because of their religious background. They are also names I took from my family tree. Whenever I’m short of a name or looking for inspiration, I always look at the thousands in my family history and select one. There is a particular medieval character, Marmaduke Thwenge, who sadly may fall out of my tree due to lack of proof, but his is a wonderful name and one I would love to use it one day. My embodiment of evil, Jo Jo, was given that name because it was a child’s name, a name whose implied innocence contrasted strongly with the character’s personality.
Q: Favourite Christmas movie you could watch over and over again.
SE: Either LOVE ACTUALLY or THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Yes, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE is consistently sat through but that’s my children’s choice…I go and read a book!
Q: What period of your life do you write about most often?
SE: I used to think I didn’t reflect much of my own life in my stories until I noticed a pattern. A number of my pieces have rural settings, a few involve pubs, there is also a certain time of day, particularly dusk which clings to the edges of my tales. This all fits in with the years I spent growing up in a pub in the middle of nowhere (Shropshire to be exact). This pub, THE CIDER HOUSE, was isolated. Old animal traps (made harmless) hung on one of the room’s walls, these traps inspired ‘We Walk in the Night as Strangers’, a story published in Sanitarium Magazine; there were also cider presses which crop up in another story, ‘The Yowling’ in the first Weird Ales anthology and there are other stories, all with a rural setting or feel to them. When it was open, the pub was filled with farmers and the car parks with tractors. I spent school nights trying to fall asleep above the bar whilst I heard glasses chinking, people laughing and on Wednesdays – music night – the sing-alongs. It was a comforting sound in a way. I would have to walk a mile to the bus stop along narrow lanes to catch a bus to school. Those walks home in the winter between the bus stop and the pub have stuck with me, that sense of the world closing down, of quietening but hiding something…those memories stay and feed into my tales.
Q: What was your favourite book / film as a child?
SE: It was more like a favourite series: Enid Blyton’s FAMOUS FIVE, SECRET SEVEN and MALLORY TOWERS. I would get them all and just reread and reread until Mum stopped me and told me I should go outside and play (although playing outside on your own in the middle of nowhere was not very exciting, especially when sisters didn’t want to play either). Later on they got me a pony as something to do, so I would ride for miles quite freely and usually end up getting thrown off.
A favourite Christmas book was “The Night Before Christmas” which my mum would read to us on Christmas Eve before sending us to bed and going back downstairs to the pub. I read it to my own children when they were growing up. My favourite film was JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963 version, note I was born 1964). I would watch it whenever it was on and I still do, even if my kids mock the special effects. Those fighting skeletons – I loved that scene.
Q: What is your favourite ever thing about Christmas?
SE: This is a really personal one. The birth of my first child, Bethan. She was born at 2.35am on Christmas Day. Not the first born that day (she was the third) but the first girl – for which we got our photo in the local paper, me complete with a terrible perm. I have memories of sitting on the hospital bed having just got her off to sleep and looking out of the window as dawn was coming up. There was a very, very slight flurry of snow and a tree on a hill had been decorated with Christmas lights. It was all very peaceful – until the doctors came round later singing Silent Night and waking all the babies up. Midwives wearing antlers also presented a risk during checkups!
To read Stephanie’s brilliant story please find the UK Link here:
— with John Gilbert and Alex S. Johnson.
A writer - I think that says it all.