Interview with Ella McLeod

Ella McLeod

Writer, Poet & Performer
‘Conveying Identity’ Panelist

Interview conducted by Sharron Green

  1. You are a writer and poet, what inspires you?

I am inspired by the world around me- is that a really boring answer? But seriously, everything from a kiss to a war. Mostly I write from rage, trying to process pain and injustice, while finding magic amongst even the most mundane things.

  1. What is the best part about writing? And what do you think is the hardest thing about it?

The best part are those wonderful moments of flow, when you can literally feel the story pouring out of you. The hardest part is when you have to revisit that outpouring and mop it up… a.k.a. editing. It’s brutal and you have to have absolutely no ego (and no writer has no ego).

3. You also perform your poems — how important is that to you?

It depends on the poem- some are written to be read aloud, to be given voice. They’re written to the cadence of my speech because I’m trying to harken back to an oral story telling tradition or because they need to be shouted or because they need an audience to sit in relationship with them. So often it’s very important.

4. Could you tell me a bit about your upcoming novel Rapunzella, Or, Don’t Touch My Hair?

The novel started as my dissertation- a half hour spoken word retelling of Rapunzel. After graduating I kept revisiting it, wanting to breathe life back into the story but unsure how. Then the pandemic happened and I had all this time… I think a lot of us picked up unconsidered hobbies during covid (I don’t think I’d ever just gone for walk in the park beforehand so that was definitely one) and I think it was a time of real reckoning- we had to sit with ourselves and think and feel and process. At the same time came a social reckoning, as we were all forced to interrogate how we treat black and brown people. Of this, came my novel. There was a personal reckoning with my place as a middle class black woman, third generation Jamaican, who has often occupied predominantly white spaces. But also a political reckoning with all of the messaging society produces and reproduces about what it means to be a black woman- stereotypes about strength and aggression that reinforce their antitheses, the stories told to us as children in fairy tales or as adults in magazines- that beauty and love and magic are not for us, but for our white counterparts with long flowing golden hair. So it’s set between our world where the protagonist is a young black teenager girl at a mostly private school, growing up, falling in love and watching her area change. All the while she’s able to visit another world in her dreams, where a coven of witches are locked in a battle for power with an evil king.

5. You have chosen to write your novel in poetry and prose – was this an enjoyable process? Did it present challenges?

It was most challenging in editing when I had to navigate the balance of the two- too much poetry and you stunt the pace and lose the reader; too little and what you keep feels incongruous. But while writing my early drafts it felt very natural to switch between the two. I think I’ve always engaged with a wide variety of texts — my background is in theatre, Shakespeare in particular, and so writing across forms made more sense to me than sticking to one.

6. What advice would you give others keen to write YA fiction?

To read YA fiction, to never patronise your reader and to remember how delicious it felt to be a teenager who yearned for things. And if they want to publish, to remember it’s a numbers game — I think I sent 120 emails before I heard back from an agent and that was just in the first half of 2020.

  1. Which book or author has most inspired you and why?

Just one?! There are so many! I’m going to say a poem, a book and an author. Sorry not sorry!

Poem — Harlem by Langston Hughes. What do you mean why? Go read it.

Book — House of Spirits by Isabel Allende. A dreamy magic realist political gem that seamlessly blends fantasy, love and socialism. It’s politically powerful without being didactic, it uses magic so cleverly without resorting to any cheap deux ex machina tricks, and the romance… swoon.

Author — Maya Angelou. For the sheer breadth of her work as an author, poet and activist. I am told by those lucky enough to have met her that she was wise, hilarious and an excellent cook. An icon and a huge role model.

8. When do you find time to write? How does it fit in with the other parts of your life?

I don’t sleep much! Maybe that’s my advice for fledgling writers actually — if you’re working another job while writing which let’s face it most of us are, prepare for late nights. The pandemic was a small mercy in a perverse way because I had no social life for the first year I was writing this book. I’d work, eat dinner and then write into the night. Luckily I’m a night owl and this suits me, but yes, I had to sacrifice some sleep and some social life when bars and clubs became a possibility again. However it forced me to put in some clear boundaries with my day job — like not working past my contracted hours. I’d recommend this to everyone, even though sending the email explaining this boundary made me feel physically ill.

9. Do you have any favourite treats when you are writing?

Nomo caramel chocolate (I’m allergic to dairy) and a glass or two of Shiraz.

  1. Do you also teach or mentor writers?

I mentor children and teens, some of whom hope to be writers one day. Their imaginations are boundless and we have excellent chats about what YA they’re reading. I love giving recommendations — normally Malorie Blackman, Phillip Pullman or Bethany C Moreow.

  1. Have you ever had writer’s block and if so, how did you overcome it?

Oh god yes, every week. Normally I cry, argue with my cat (She’s so sassy and argues back) and then go for a walk. The latter is most effective.

12. What are you working on at the moment or what do you plan to write next?

God, quite a lot! I’m working on three podcasts (one as a producer, one as a writer, one as a host), a picture book (just the words, I can’t draw to save my life) a YA novel and I am in the earliest earliest days of drafting my first adult novel.

To learn more about Ella’s role in the 2022 Festival, and to buy her most recent work, head to her section of SNWF’s Meet Our Guests.

Enjoyed this interview? Let us know what you think in the comments below, or start a discussion on our social media accounts.

About the Author

Sharron Green is a poet and Creative Writing MA graduate from the University of Surrey who enrolled after the 2020 Surrey New Writers Festival. This year she will be joining the Creative Brand Identity panel and chairing the Open Mic.

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