Writer of the Week: Alice Elliott

writer of the week

Abbie chats to Writer of the Week Alice Elliott, author of ‘The Valley Girls’, a wonderful duology of The People’s Friend Pocket Novels.

You can find The Valley Girls Part 2 in shops now and, if you missed it, freephone 0800 904 7260 (UK) or +44 (0)1382 575322 (Overseas) to order Part 1.

The second part of your brilliant Pocket Novel, ‘The Valley Girls’, is out this week. Can you summarise the story for us?

Thanks so much for having me. It’s wonderful to be The People’s Friend Writer of the Week.

Well, The Valley Girls is a story that’s primarily about the friendship of three young women – Charlotte, Beth and Molly. They live in a valley village in West Yorkshire in the 1870s.

The girls are from three very different walks of life, but have always been close friends. Still, now they’ve come of age, their differences in station do cause some difficulties, not to mention romantic rivalries and family problems.

And then there’s the mysterious gypsy woman who’s recently turned up in the village in her scarlet painted caravan with her handsome piebald pony. Both Beth and Molly get a distinct feeling that they’ve seen her somewhere before but can’t pinpoint where that might be.

The mystery deepens when Beth’s mother forbids them to speak to her. And yet the traveller seems a decent person and helps the girls out a few times. Who on earth is she?

I felt transported back in time while reading. How much research went into writing it?

Oh, good. I’m glad it felt like an escape.

I really enjoy reading non-fiction books about Victorian life, so they proved very helpful for creating an authentic Victorian world.

I also find that websites like Instagram and Pinterest are very useful for researching fashion trends. I love looking at Victorian hats and dresses.

When they’re open, I also love visiting museums and stately homes. They’re great for research and really bring the past to life.

How do you keep track of the various storylines and character arcs?

I use my notebook initially to visually sketch out an overall plan of the book. I suppose it looks a bit like a ‘mind map’ or flow chart.

I also write rough notes on each of the main characters to help me get to know them better. I then write up a plan using my laptop.

I find this preliminary work helps me keep the story and characters on track, though from time to time they misbehave and send me off on a slightly different path than I’d planned!

Each character is so distinct and three-dimensional. Was there a certain character you enjoyed writing about the most? Or did you love each character equally?

Thank you, I’m really pleased to hear that.

I love all my characters (even the less likeable ones!), but I have to say that I utterly adore the three ‘Valley Girls’ and can’t pick a favourite out of them.

Charlotte had the loudest and clearest ‘voice’ in my head as I was writing the story, whilst Molly is the character who is most like me. Beth, on the other hand, is where the book began.

I had a really clear image of a raven-haired girl who lived on a Pennine farm with her beloved pony and built the plot from there. So, they’re all very dear to me for different reasons.

Do you prefer to write longer or shorter fiction? Which do you find more challenging?

I enjoy both, though find it very hard to write a short story when I’m in the middle of writing a longer piece.

I started out writing short stories and have since moved to longer work.

Personally, I think they’re both challenging in different ways. It can be tricky to write rounded and believable characters in a short story as you don’t have as many words to work with.

With novels, I find it’s all about ‘stamina’. It can be difficult to keep up momentum and stay focused.

Notebook and pencil, or laptop? Kitchen table, or study? Blank wall, or inspiring view?

I use my notebook for writing research notes and planning out the story, but then I always move on to my laptop for the writing itself.

I find that I can’t write prose very well in longhand for some reason!

I’m blessed with a beautiful view of fields and trees from my kitchen window so usually write in there.

I live in West Yorkshire myself and the stunning landscape we have here has proved to be very inspiring for my writing.

What’s your one top tip for an aspiring Writer Of The Week?

Write about the things you love and keep on going even if it doesn’t work out first time.

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Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.