A lovely interview with I Heart Books. Thank you, Kirsty!
Sisters, doing it for themselves!
POSTED ON APRIL 24, 2013
Who is Ellie Campbell?
Actually ‘Ellie’ is two people – sisters and co-authors Pam Burks and Lorraine Campbell. We love all kinds of novels but particularly women’s fiction with a great story, recognizable characters and the ability to make us laugh one minute and perhaps cry the next. We still share the same sense of humor that got us into so much trouble as kids and so it has been fun writing books that allow us to enjoy the comic aspects of everyday life while still exploring some serious issues and indulging in our taste for romance, drama, and intrigue.
Your book is called ‘Looking for La La’ please could you tell me about it?
We got the inspiration from a postcard that was sent to our house several years ago. It was from someone called La La, covered with lipstick kisses and proclaiming passionate love to my husband. So of course my sister Lorraine and I borrowed the event for the first chapter of Looking For La La: a novel about a bored, unappreciated housewife and mother of two, Cathy, whose predictable world is turned upside-down by the arrival of a love postcard addressed to husband, Declan. We had her investigating the mystery, full of joy at this unexpected excitement. But her sleuthing just gets her deeper into all kinds of trouble, threatening her marriage, bringing surprising attention from a sexy artist, stirring up conflict with friends and fellow-mothers with secrets of their own and even – it turns out – inciting the wrath of a murderous opponent. It’s a wild ride with a lot of humour and we had great fun writing it.
‘Looking for La La’ is based around a thirty something mother of two, please could you tell me about her?
Cathy is definitely on the ‘slummy-mummy’ end of the scale, disorganized, chaotic, the kind of person who runs around the house tidying up before the cleaning lady comes and then has to hide or leave the house because she feels so guilty about hiring help. (Nothing like me, obviously!) Her second child has just started school and she has no idea how to go about returning to work, being nervous of new technology and victim of a terrible interview phobia. So she’s putting off the evil day as long as she can, the source of regular arguments with her husband. Meanwhile she has a great bunch of friends: Raz, who lives in their attic: the Tuesday Twice Monthlies, fellow mothers who share riotous alcohol-fuelled evenings out. She’s fiercely loyal and she genuinely loves Declan even if they bicker, especially as suspicions grow about his young new assistant. It has to be said Cathy is prone to misreading situations – not nearly the great sleuth she fondly imagines herself to be – and this combined with her impulsive, reactive personality gets her into a lot of hot water, often with comic results.
They say the journey to being published is one of the hardest an author can take, please can you describe the journey that you went on?
I began by going to creative writing classes as a form of escapism – I had three young children, all under the age of 4, and I needed to get away occasionally. I loved turning up to these classes, listening to all those fabulous writers, not really thinking I would ever particularly be one. With encouragement though I began writing short stories, thrilled when I had my first one published in a UK weekly magazine. From there on, I continued writing short stories, and small articles, mostly done in the short space of time while the children were at school or nursery. When Lorraine settled in Colorado, we started writing a novel together. It was a red-letter day when Caroline Hardman, our agent, agreed to take us on and even more exciting when Arrow Books wanted to publish How to Survive your Sisters and gave us a two-book contract. There were a lot of firsts – it was our first novel, we were Caroline’s first clients and it was the first fiction acquisition by the editor at Arrow. As everyone says finding an agent is incredibly challenging – we were lucky.
Are any of the characters in ‘Looking for La La’ anything like you?
Cathy, the narrator, is like me in some ways, in that I love going out with my female friends and just having a blast with them. I don’t go out drinking as much as Cathy does though, (I wish!), and my children are a lot older. I can however remember the days of not knowing what I wanted to do once the kids didn’t need me around so much and being terrified of the thought of returning to work. Saying all that, luckily I found my career path early on.
Writers put so much time and energy into their characters and I have been told in the past that a writer carries their characters around with them.
So my question is if you could go out for a day with any one of your characters: who would it be, what would you do and why did you pick this particular character?
In Looking for La La, it would have to be Cathy. I would like to go the Spa she visits with her friend, Gabby, but unlike Gabby, (who went to sleep instead) would listen to her problems and talk some sense into her and tell her not to be so hard on herself and not to feel she has to be all things to all people all the time.
You write as a sister team, how did this come about?
Lorraine started being published first, well she would, she’s older, ha. But no really she worked for a literary agency, for the novelist Carol Smith. Carol encouraged her to write. When I began writing, I would never show anything to Lorraine, for fear she’d think it rubbish. Obviously, though, once my work was in magazines I felt a lot more secure about sharing it. After a while Lorraine and I began to email each other our stories, especially if we’d reached a sticking point and could use a bit of input. When we both wanted to write a novel about our experience of being sisters, and particularly about our amazing mother, we decided to write it together. It was difficult at first, working out the logistics, but once we had the plot down on paper, we each picked a chapter or scene or character and just ran with it. To be honest with all the rewrites and different versions we send back and forth, it’s hard even for us to tell who wrote what exactly. It all streams into one.
What can we expect next, any future books in the pipeline?
Yes, we have just finished our fourth novel, Million Dollar Question, which is currently with our agent, Caroline Hardman at Hardman Swainson. It follows the stories of two very different women, one in the States who loses her fantastic career, her wealth and her super-eligible fiancé, and the other, an impoverished divorced parent in the UK, who wins a million pounds, both events occurring on the same day. They are connected in more ways than they know and eventually the two stories converge as each has to deal with the change of identity, issues of self-worth and all the challenges that come with such an extreme turn of fortunes
If there was one saying that could sum up your life, what would it be?
If ‘Looking for La La’ was to be made into a film, who would you like to star in it?
I would say Eva Mendes (Cathy has a thing about her) but she’s far too feminine and pouty and it would be hard to see her as slobby, chaotic Cathy. Perhaps Drew Barrymore or Renee Zellwegger – she was so amazing in Bridget Jones. Definitely Damien Lewis for Declan, Raz could be Charlize Theron, Belinda would be Melissa McCarthy, Henrietta would be played by Emily Watson with her pixie cut hairstyle and Rupert – Cathy’s love interest – would have absolutely to be Colin Farrell. Or Johnny Depp. I don’t know if they’re what we pictured exactly but if they were on the set, nothing on earth could keep Lorraine and I away.
Please could you tell us a bit about your writing process?
Well, it might sound as if writing in partnership is easy but really it has its pros and cons. One good thing about Lorraine and me is that we are in some ways very alike in our thinking, sense of humour, even in our voices and use of words and expressions. To the point that in our dating days it was impossible for both of us to shine. If one was on form, telling stories, grabbing the attention, the other would automatically fall back and fade into the background rather than compete. We don’t look at all identical – Lorraine is taller, I’m darker in hair and skin – but people often used to ask if we were twins. So writing in the same voice isn’t as hard for us as it might be for other people. Basically we work out a storyline – which evolves as we progress. We decide who wants to write each character viewpoint, send the chapters over, the other rewrites as they feel fit, sends it back, the other edits and makes more changes, and back and forth like that several times. By the time we’re finished, it’s very hard to remember who exactly wrote what. Kind of like our childhood memories – we each claim that such-and-such an event happened to us – who poured the bowl of ice-cream over their head in a fit of childish excitement, who got into a stand-off with the neighbourhood bully. The stories blend – and at the end of the day, well, it’s sort of annoying, someone else claiming ‘your’ past but it’s sort of wonderful too. I guess it’s a sister thing.