Thank you to our 10,000 new readers who downloaded Looking For La La this weekend. And thank you to Wilovebooks for this fun interview.
It is two-for-one interview day! I am pleased to welcome to the blog Pam Burks and Lorraine Campbell, the sisters behind the writing team of “Ellie Campbell.” They are the authors of How To Survive Your Sisters, When Good Friends Go Bad, and Looking for La La. Be sure to stop back on Thursday for more from this duo as they fill us in on the story that inspired Looking for La La and share ten things they’ve learned from being a writer.
Q&A with Pam and Lorraine:
Describe your ideal writing space. How does it compare to reality?
Pam: Not that different in actual fact. My reality is an attic, with a window looking out onto fields and trees and the beautiful Surrey countryside. It is quiet and peaceful. I have a convector heater, which keeps the temperature just right. I have lots of windows. It is as I would like it, although ideally I would have a toilet on the same floor. And Lorraine would be sitting behind me, rather than asleep the other side of the world, to answer questions and prompt me when I get stuck. Also she could bring me up cups of tea and cake whenever I desired. And clean the house from top to bottom while my fingers flew across the keyboard.
Lorraine: Hah, fat chance on the sister as slave idea. My dream is a log cabin on the Californian coast, Big Sur, maybe, nestled in the pines but with a view of the cliffs and crashing surf (you did say fantasy, didn’t you?) It would be a beautiful organized space where I could look out the window and see my horses. Everything would be filed, no item marring the immaculate surface of clutter-free desk. The reality is that my office is so messy I can’t stand to go in there so I sit in the family room working at this little restaurant-style booth. It’s got so bad that last night I woke up at 2 a.m. and started tidying. I went to bed again at 4.30 a.m. This year though I’m going to wrestle it under control.
What is the first story you remember writing and what was it about?
Pam: It was about the second world war. My history teacher (a supply teacher by the way) had engaged us in such a way that by the end of his lesson, I couldn’t wait to put pen to paper and do the homework he had requested. It was to be about hiding and dark space. I went home and wrote and wrote. Totally immersed in my tale of the German soldiers walking around, while I was under some trap door. My poor mother injured at my side. I remember writing about their heavy jackboots clomping around.
The next history lesson, the supply teacher was still there and he stood up and read my story aloud. Everyone was silent. I was kind of appalled, amazed, and just really surprised as I began blushing and looking for a place to my hide myself “This story,” he said solemnly, as he came to an end, “Was written by someone in this class” and he read my name out. The class all started clapping, I blushed again and again. But it was at that moment, that I thought, I know what I want to do when I “grow up”.
Lorraine: I can’t compete with that. (I don’t think I did much homework.) Although when I was about five my teacher read aloud a story I wrote about being an elephant in the zoo and I thought she was mocking me, I wanted to hide under the desk. I was pushed into writing my first short story when working for Carol Smith, now a bestselling author but then a very successful literary agent. She always prodded me to write but I was too intimidated and shy about it. It wasn’t until a new secretary was hired and immediately started churning out stories like a fiend that my competitive streak kicked in – or rather the knowledge that cowardice was holding me back. I can’t remember the plot but I sold it to Woman magazine.
Name a memorable book from your childhood. Why is it memorable?
Pam: I loved the Enid Blyton novels, especially the Famous Five adventures, always capturing bands of smugglers or robbers, or chowing down on luscious picnics and lashings of ginger beer. They’re what really got me reading. Then I started to like non-fiction while still very young. I’d ask Mum if the story was true when we picked out library books. If she said no, I wouldn’t borrow it.
Lorraine: My favorite books were probably ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ and also ‘The Hobbit.’ Fantasy worlds, magic – I could escape into them for hours. In my mind I was there, skilfully sword-fighting, using my bravery and cunning against the evil villains. Oh, and there were horse books too. I particularly loved The Punchbowl Farm series and Romney Marsh series by Monica Edwards, I still have most of them. I wanted to live there at Punchbowl Farm and be friends with all those children.
If you could ask any writer (living or dead) a question, who would it be and what would you ask?
Lorraine: I’d ask Bill Bryson – ‘Notes From A Small Planet,’ ‘A Walk In The Woods’, – if he’d take me on his next trip. The man has such wit and observational skills. I think his books are hilarious. I think he’d be the perfect travel companion, especially if you were some place remote and far from civilisation where you could really use a sense of humour and an appreciation of the bizarre.
Pam: I’d ask Frances Mayes who wrote ‘Under The Tuscan Sun’ if she could recommend any cool 16th century rental villas in her village. Preferably with a private lake and a pool. Then I’d hunker in with the family, eating amazing Italian food, taking leisurely bike rides, and drinking gallons of Chianti – now that would be bliss.
If you could pick any of the worlds or characters you have created, which would you want to visit or spend a day with?
Pam: Cathy, the heroine in ‘Looking For La La’. I’d actually like to go down the pub with her, or out for a meal and just chat about life and men, and the woes of women. I’ve a feeling we’d have a lot in common. Particularly discussing postcards.
Lorraine: I’d probably say Cathy too although Hazel in ‘How To Survive Your Sisters’ would be a laugh and we could try and one-up each other with our backpacking stories. Actually I’d like to spend an evening with the Tuesday Twice Monthlies, Cathy’s ‘Mothers Restaurant Research Group’, singing karaoke at Tropicos. Especially if yummy Rupert were there. But since I’m not a mother, I’d have to be included as an honorary guest.
What is one thing you like to do when you are not reading or writing?
Pam: Digging around in my allotment, making paths, planting seeds, collecting manure and making it look good. I share it with my friend, Sheila, and we are always escaping whenever the sun comes out. Men have their sheds but I have my allotment.
Lorraine: I am volunteering at a couple of horse rescues helping to train these often-abused horses and getting them to trust humans after a painful past. I love it but I also enjoy riding my own three horses. There is nothing better than heading out into the Rocky Mountains on a beautiful Colorado day. You never know what you’ll encounter – elk, deer, coyotes, bear, mountain lions… well, actually I’d rather not meet the lions but they are out there. I actually saw two from the bedroom window of my cabin – not a sight you easily forget.
What are you currently working on?
Pam: We’ve just finished our fourth novel, Million Dollar Question, which is about two women, one in England, one in America, whose lives are overturned on the same fateful day, one winning a million pounds, the other losing everything. It’s about how each copes with their respective success and failure. And the things that link them together. It’s currently with our agent, Caroline Hardman at Hardman Swainson.
Lorraine: Also, since we’ve only just published Looking For La La , we’re putting a lot of energy on promoting what we think is one of our most fun books yet. We even created our own website and blog – chicklitsisters.com – because we didn’t care for the one we had before. As for a fifth Ellie Campbell novel – it’s really only a fledgling, far too young to expose. But perhaps there’ll be a sequel to La La one day. Cathy is such a great character and we love the combination of humour and mystery. We try to include both in all our books.