5 March 2020
Lulah Ellender is a published copywriter and memoir writer.
Q: Could you talk to us about your most recent publication?
A: My first book, a memoir titled Elisabeth’s Lists, was published in 2018 by Granta. It tells the story of my long-lost grandmother’s extraordinary life through a book of handwritten lists she left behind. It also explores wider themes of loss, family stories, and how we use lists to help navigate difficult times in our lives.
Q: What type of research do you do before sitting down to write a first draft?
A: I love research. In fact, my agent often had to tell me to step away from the pile of books I was ploughing through and just get on with actually writing! For my first book, I was lucky to have a huge amount of family material to work from: letters, photographs and diaries, as well as the book of lists itself. I also researched what life was like in the different countries my grandmother, Elisabeth, lived in during her short life, as I really wanted to bring each place to life for the reader. I spent a couple of blissful days at the Mass Observation Archive trawling through boxes of ephemera and stories of everyday lives, and took myself to some of the places Elisabeth lived nearby – sadly my budget didn’t stretch to a field trip to Brazil or China!
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A: I’ve just had an offer from Granta for my second book, so I’m knuckling down with that. It’s another non-fiction book, exploring how I found a sense of home through tending my garden and looking at our relationship with place and landscape. I’m thinking about questions like: what does ‘home’ mean? How can we find a sense of belonging in a fragile world? And what traces do we leave on the places we’ve lived? My other work as a freelance copywriter and editor brings in my bread-and-butter income, so I’m working that around writing and researching too.
Q: Do you teach or mentor writers? If not, what has your experience of being taught and mentored been like?
A: I love working with writers to develop their manuscripts. I’ve worked on a range of projects, from self-published novels to traditionally published non-fiction. My involvement depends on where the writer is at in their writing life – sometimes people are writing their first long piece of work, whilst others are honing a proposal or manuscript before sending it out to agents. Having been edited myself, I’m very conscious of how exposing and frankly terrifying it can be to share your work, so all my feedback aims to support the writer in building confidence and improving their craft. Working with my editor felt like such a privilege, and I’m so excited that she will be correcting, refining and helping shape my next book.
Q: Have you ever had writer’s block and if so, how did you overcome it?
A: I can’t say I’ve ever properly had writer’s block, though some days I spend more time staring at the wall than producing anything decent. I think this is partly due to writing non-fiction, because you can always escape into the research for a while and still feel productive, but also because I wrote my first book whilst raising four young children and working part-time. Any time I had leftover to write felt like a treat, and it often saved my sanity rather than being something I struggled with. I think perhaps if you only have a very limited time to write, it concentrates your mind and helps avoid writer’s block. But ask me a few months into writing my next book and we’ll see!
Q: What are you looking forward to most about the festival?
A: I’m really looking forward to meeting the other authors and festival-goers. Connecting with new people has been one of the joys of being published, and events like these are always inspiring and energising. I might sneak into Beth Miller’s sex writing workshop too, despite not writing fiction, as it sounds brilliant fun.
Interview conducted by Rufaro Mazarura.