Interviewed by Amelia Loulli

Read Eleanor Mae’s fiction piece, Emperor


Amelia: The thing that made me fall instantly in love with this piece was the use of such a stunning poetic voice. Can you talk us through its creation?
Eleanor: Thank you. What a lovely compliment. Various strands of interest went into this piece. I’ve been thinking a lot about men and power lately—it must be the current political climate. What does a great man think about, at the end of his greatness? How does he view the people closest to him? These questions, combined with my abiding interest in islands and exiles, brought Napoleon to mind. The piece ended up being a meditation on love, and dominance, and how they intersect. Once I had the setting, and the man, the sentences came. There’s always poetry in decay, dwindling power, elegy.

Do you find yourself drawn to reading and/or writing historical fiction?

I studied history at university, and always loved the storytelling element in constructing the past. In fact, I think I loved it a little too much – accuracy was never my favourite part, which did rather put an end to any fledgling historian career prospects. Fortunately, history is a wellspring for anyone who wants to write. I read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall in one go, and if I’m writing something new I tend to put it in the past as a natural instinct. We’ll see how that evolves as I keep writing.

I wonder, what is your reading and writing preference? Poetry, prose, non-fiction, other?
I try to read poetry every day. It keeps me in the lyrical, concentrated groove I want to write in. I don’t like wasting words, but I also don’t like writing in a sparse style, if anything; I’m trying to write prose as close to poetry as possible. I read prose when I make time for it, normally a classic that I’ve managed to miss, or else an old favourite, something by Isabel Allende or Terry Pratchett. And I love, really love, reading books and diaries by artists, Anne Truitt’s journals, for example. They inform my own creative work, and remind me that I’m not insane.

Are there any authors who particularly inspire or influence your work?

Ever so many. Virginia Woolf, Shirley Jackson, Jean Rhys, Jeanette Winterson, Ursula Le Guin, to name a few. I like an assured, poetic style with a touch of creepiness. In poetry, at the moment, it’s Jane Kenyon and Mary Oliver.

Do you have any advice for writers seeking to achieve their first publication?

  1. Make sure that you’ve written something good, rather than something that will do. You’ll know if it’s good, deep down. You can wait for a while, pondering an idea before you put pen to paper. This can save time in the long run.
  2. Make sure that you haven’t written something that thousands of aspiring writers have written before you, or if you have, make it so stunningly original in execution that you rebirth the genre. The first option’s easier.
  3. Remember that writing is an inherently selfish act, unless you’re writing cheques to children’s charities, so consider the process of writing a privilege in itself. That way you’ll have achieved something before you’ve even started submitting.
  4. Remember that writing is something you do, not something you are. Rejection is inevitable. They’re not saying you’re worthless. They’re not even saying your piece is worthless, normally, just that it doesn’t fit the journal. And even if your piece is terrible, so what? Write a better one.
  5. Follow the submission guidelines. Write a short, polite cover letter. Apply to journals you like the look of. Use Duotrope. And have something interesting to do once you’ve pressed send, so you don’t get all morbid about it.