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Monday, June 2, 2014

Interview with Ellie Marney, author of 'Every Word'

I fell in love with Ellie Marney’s ‘Every’ series from Mycroft’s first wise-ass comment. I was thrilled when it made the 2014 Gold Inky Longlist, and doubly-thrilled when I was offered the chance to interview the author!  

Q: How were you first published – agent or slush pile?

I sent an unsolicited manuscript for my first book – a middle-grade fantasy novel – to an editor whose contact was given to me by a mutual friend. So yeah, basically slush pile.  The editor must have seen some promise, because she asked me for some rewrites, which I did quick-smart and without complaint – I think now it must have been a bit of a test, to see if she could work with me! – and when I returned them, I mentioned that I had another book, a YA crime book, that I’d just finished.  She asked to see it, and that was how Every Breath came about.

That editor was Eva Mills at Allen & Unwin – Eva is fantastic, really the most amazing editor a writer could hope for, and I thank my lucky stars for her every single day.

Q: Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’ - that is, do you meticulously plot your novel before writing, or do you ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ and let the story evolve naturally?

Pantser, I’m a confirmed pantser!  I often have a number of scenes I know I want to weave in, and usually some definite end point, but most of the plot evolves as I write, and as I add to my ideas with research.  I often make scribbled plotting notes that I abandon halfway through writing them, when I realise I’m better off just writing what’s in my head.

Of course, this means that I do a lot of re-writing.  I often have to go back and ret-con a whole lot of scenes that have been altered by something I’ve written further down the track.  And luckily I was editing Every Word at the same time I was writing Every Move, so I was able to work in a number of small plot points that took on extra significance in book 3.

Q: How long did it take you to write ‘Every Word’, from first idea to final manuscript?

I had the first ideas for Every Word when I was polishing Every Breath for publication.  At that point I wasn’t even sure I had the green light for a sequel, but the characters just wouldn’t leave me alone.  Thankfully my editor was really excited about a second and third book, so I was able to carry on!  I guess, from first scribbled scenes to final manuscript, it was about six months?  But I was doing a lot of other writing - edits for Every Breath - during part of that time, so if you condensed it, the writing of Every Word actually took about three months.  It felt astonishingly quick.  Aannd then…the redrafting began!

Q: Where do story ideas generally start for you? Do you first think of the character, theme, ending? Or is it just a free-fall? 
Dialogue – I always start getting snatches of dialogue from these vaguely-considered characters for potentially-going-nowhere stories.  But once the characters start talking, and you get a sense of the language they use, the way they might gesture, their attitude and tone, and how they came to be the people they are, then they really start living and breathing.  They become complete people, co-habiting in your head, and you can’t imagine not giving them agency.  They sort of just demand to have a story written for them, the sods! 

Q: Were you already a fan of Sherlock Holmes before you had the idea for the ‘Every’ series, or did you have to go and read the Arthur Conan Doyle books and various adaptations?

Oh no, I had already read all the Conan Doyle books in high school.  They completely fascinated me – one of the first books I ever bought was a huge ‘Complete and Unabridged’ collection of the stories!  So I was already totally in love with the character.  That was actually the thing that sparked off the first book, Every Breath, the question I had, which was what would Sherlock be like as a contemporary teenager. I love checking out all the new adaptations, although I’m a bit of a Sherlock snob - I’m not a fan of the Robert Downey Jnr movies (he makes a much better Tony Stark, imo).

Q: US ‘Elementary’ or BBC ‘Sherlock’?

Ooh, now there’s a question that could really get me into trouble!  To be honest, I follow both shows religiously, I’m a total Holmes addict.  And I’m certainly enthralled by Benedict Cumberbunny Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Sherlock. He portrays him as a high-functioning sociopath, which is certainly one reading you could take of the original character. But I have to agree with something Lili Wilkinson said about his version of Holmes, which is that he’s just a bit cruel. 

And although I often find the mysteries in ‘Elementary’ sometimes a bit too pedestrian, I really find myself veering more towards Johnny Lee Miller’s portrayal of Sherlock – as someone who is highly controlled, and definitely on a certain spectrum, but who’s a bit more human.  The development of him as a character, as a person, is really fantastic, and I love the fact that his Watson is a woman, of course!

Q:  Before the ‘Every’ series came out, you won the 2010 Scarlet Stiletto Award for women's short crime writing. So it should come as no surprise to readers that the ‘Every’ series reads like a crime series; there’s nothing ‘lite’ or sugar-coated because this is a YA crime series. You clearly have a lot of respect for your readers, giving them stories that are scary and complex, gritty and dangerous - was there ever a moment, while writing, when you thought to pare back or were worried that it was all too much for teen readers?

I wasn’t worried at all while writing Every Breath – I just had a strong feeling that there was a niche out there for readers who wanted something a bit grittier.  If you look in high school libraries, there’s a lot of crime fiction on the shelves – Agatha Christie, Susan Hill, Kathy Reichs, Stieg Larsson - only very little of it is written for teenagers.  I read a lot of Peter Temple, and I love his style of writing: this wonderfully spare, ‘mean streets’ take on Melbourne. I also love Honey Brown’s raw psychological suspense.  I wanted to borrow a little bit of that, and also I felt that readers were attracted to complex mysteries and forensic procedural thrillers, but that no one was really writing that for a teenaged audience.  So, no, I wasn’t worried that teen readers couldn’t take it – I mean, if they can handle reading Stieg Larsson, they can take it, you know?

I had more qualms with Every Word, because a few things happen…well, let’s just say that the action gets darker and bloodier, and there were a few spots where I felt that it needed a lighter touch (you’ll know which bits when you get to them!).  I want to take readers on a thrill ride, but I don’t want to freak them out completely.

And also, it was for the sake of the characters, particularly Rachel.  I didn’t want her to be a victim – a lot of crime thrillers choose that trope for women characters, and I’m not a big fan of it.  I mean, Rachel has some really extreme moments in Every Word, but they are situations we’re aware she can wriggle her way out of, with (or sometimes without) Mycroft’s help, and bounce back from. She actually needs a bit more time to bounce back, after Every Word, but we know she’s resilient, she’ll make it through.

Q: Will the ‘Every’ series really finish with three books, or are there more adventures in store for Rachel and Mycroft?

Good question!  I honestly don’t know.  At this stage I’m still editing the finale for Every Move, so things are still up in the air…  I guess we’ll see if readers enjoy how the series is progressing with Every Word, and take it from there.  It suddenly occurred to me a few weeks ago that I won’t be writing Rachel and James any more after this…the idea made me a bit teary, I have to say, because I really love my characters!  I suppose anything’s possible - I only had three books in mind, originally, but you never know.

Q: ‘Every Word’ takes place in London – did you need to go on a writing retreat to help your writing process? Did you miss writing about Melbourne in this second book?   
I had to go to London to help my writing process!  You know that old writer’s adage, ‘write what you know’? – well, it turns out that applies most specifically to writing location!  Yeah, it was weird, I got about three-quarters of the way through the book, and suddenly realised that I really had no idea what I was talking about…the smells, the tone of the place, the look of the sky, I didn’t know anything.  Google Earth only takes you so far, y’know?

So I was thumping away on the keyboard one day, and my partner turned around to me said ‘you really should go to the UK’, and I was like ‘what?’.  Then he mentioned that his sister had some work leave, so she could mind the kids…  It really turned into a bit of a whirlwind trip, rather like Rachel’s.  It was quite a shock, actually, to be in Australia one day and then wow, suddenly I was in London, and I had never been to the UK before…  It’s fantastic, by the way.  I loved London, and I’d love to go back!

I did miss writing about Melbourne, though, oddly enough.  Writing Every Move has allowed me to jump back into that, and I’ve really noticed this feeling of ‘oh right, okay, I’m home again’ – it felt very comfortable, to slip back into it.  I can be more expressive and loose, because I know it like the back of my hand.

Q: What’s the appeal in writing for young adults? And would you ever write an adult book?

I just love YA - it’s pretty much just that.  I mean, I read YA almost exclusively – let’s face it, there’s so much amazing YA out there, you could read it forever.  I love the depth and complexity and intensity of the characters, the subtlety of them – I know lots of adults who would just gasp at the idea of teenagers being subtle, but they truly are.  They’re right on the cusp of life, and they feel everything so vividly…  There’s a wondrous energy there, which I love trying to get right when I’m writing.

I have written stories for adults, and published a few here and there, so it’s something I know I can certainly do, but it’s not what really moves me right now.  Maybe when I’m old and grey I’ll have to shift out of pretending to be a teenager, but at the moment I can still pull it off okay, so I’m going to stick with it as long as readers will let me!

Q: Can you give us absolutely any clues about the third book ‘Every Move’?

Ooh, what can I say that doesn’t give the game away…  Right, I’m going to share a few of the things I wrote down when I was first brainstorming for Every Move, and they all come into play in the book – are you ready?

Nemesis, revenge, bringing it home, country people/country skills, family history, old flame, jealousy, alone together, Final Problem.

Hope that helps!

Q: What was the last amazing book you read that you’d like to recommend to others?

That is really hard!  I’ve read some fantastic books lately, including ‘Zac and Mia’ by AJ Betts, ‘If I Stay’ by Gayle Forman, and ‘The Coldest Girl in Cold Town’ by Holly Black.  But ‘Wild Awake’ by Hilary T Smith was quite simply amazing – a careering midnight bike ride with two incredible people that shakes you up and resets your brain in strange ways.  Go read it, it’s awesome!

Q: Do you have any advice for budding young writers?

Just write – and don’t stop.  That’s the best thing to do really.  Try your best to finish things, because sometimes that can be the hardest part.  Remember that rewriting is wonderful.  And live life! - be aware of what’s going on around you, be observant and be honest when you write about it later.

Every Breath and Every Word are published by Allen & Unwin, and are now available in all good bookstores! 


  1. Thanks for having me to visit, Danielle :)

    1. Thanks for letting me pick your brain, Ellie :)

  2. Nice interview

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com


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