The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Stephanie Elmas

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Stephanie Elmas

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Summary: Sue was completely captivated by The Room Beyond by Stephanie Elmas and there was quite a lot to talk about when Stephanie popped in to Bookbag Towers.
Date: 14 November 2013
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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Sue was completely captivated by The Room Beyond by Stephanie Elmas and there was quite a lot to talk about when Stephanie popped in to Bookbag Towers.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Stephanie Elmas: I see lots of busy people on buses and trains grasping their Kindles as they travel to and from work. Hopefully they have lost themselves a little by reading my book and their journeys pass quicker for it. I also see my readers curled up on wintry nights getting more than a little spooked by the darker sections of The Room Beyond!

  • BB: What inspired you to write ‘The Room Beyond’?

SE: I was sitting in the British Library attempting to do some research for my PhD. The work wasn’t going well; I already had a young family and in the back of my mind I was worried that I just wouldn’t be able to give enough time to my studies. I’d always wanted to pursue an academic career but when I actually got the chance to do it my heart just wasn’t there anymore. So, when I was supposed to be working, I began to scribble the beginnings of a story down instead. I’d based the dissertation for my Masters degree on Victorian sensation writing: authors like Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. I’d loved doing that research and it was all still fresh in my mind. It was just inevitable that I’d end up writing my own Victorian sensation drama. The exciting challenge was weaving the modern day story into it as well.

  • BB: I know that writing the book was a labour of love for seven years. Did you ever wonder how long it would take - or feel like giving up?

SE: I felt like giving up many times. There were long periods when, for one reason or another, I just couldn’t give it any time. Then eventually I’d grab a free moment, sit down with the laptop, and suddenly I’d be in the thick of it again, back in the world of Marguerite Avenue. I love writing and in my heart I always knew I’d finish it. I had to show something for all that hard work.

  • BB: Writing a narrative in two time frames and with a large cast of characters requires real skill. Where did you learn to write?

SE: I learnt to write by writing The Room Beyond! That’s probably another reason why it took me so long. Looking back now the first drafts were, quite frankly, awful. I honestly didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I got rejected by so many agents in those early days and I can understand why. When I approached the agent I have now, hhb agency, the manuscript was in much better shape but it still needed work. Luckily for me my agent, Elly James, saw enough potential not to reject me outright but to point me towards some great editorial help. I went to Cornerstones, a literary consultancy that helped me turn my work around and, as a result, this finally secured me Elly’s representation. Even after that I carried on fine-tuning The Room Beyond with the input of a superb editor called Celia Hayley. It’s been a very long journey and a tough learning process but I wouldn’t change anything. The way I write now is a result of all of that and hopefully future books won’t take quite so long!

  • BB: Did you start with a plan of how the story would work out - or did the characters take hold and dictate what was going to happen?

SE: The Room Beyond grew organically and, looking back, yes I think the characters did dictate a lot of what happens in the story. Miranda is one of my most popular characters and when I wrote her I was determined that beneath her meek and mild demeanour a really strong heroine would power her way through. Also, I like books about large busy families and this was the first image I had in my mind when I started writing The Room Beyond. The personalities came first and then the plot began to smoulder between them.

  • BB: I know that you have considerable knowledge of Victorian fiction. What drew you to this period?

SE: Ever since I can remember I’ve read big fat Victorian novels. Although I read English at university, it’s always said that you remember your English A Level texts far better than anything you go on to study later. In my case this is absolutely true and for me it was Thomas Hardy’s The Return of The Native. By the end of those two years my copy of that book was so well read that the edges of the pages had curled up and gone fuzzy. I love the detail in Victorian novels and some brilliant heroines have come out of that era. Although it’s not for everyone there’s a huge appetite out there for all things Victorian. You only have to look at the number of television and film adaptations that are still being made every year to realise how popular those nineteenth century classics are.

  • BB: What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

SE: Keep writing and be humble. A lot of people dream of writing a book but very few actually do it. This is because it’s an incredibly hard thing to do that takes a lot of time and patience. Even when you think you’ve got it right you will then most probably have to face a great wall of criticism and rejection. But this is simply part of the process; most of the criticism I’ve had has come from people who know what they’re talking about and I’ve always tried to use their advice to make myself a better writer. There is no room for pride and you have to be prepared to work hard.

  • BB: What are you reading at the moment? And what would be your desert island book?

SE: I am just about to start a new book: The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones. I was recommended it by one of my reviewers who said it reminded her of my book. I’ve read The Outcast by Sadie Jones and thought it was traumatic but superb. And my desert island book, well, after what I’ve just said about The Return of The Native it could be no other!

  • BB: You’ve got one wish. What’s it to be?

SE: It would be for the continued health and happiness of my family. I love writing but my family will always come before anything else.

  • BB: What's next for Stephanie Elmas?

SE: ‘The Curious Life of Walter Balanchine’. It’s a working title but I like it. Walter is a character from The Room Beyond; a strange Victorian mystic who wears charms and bottles around his neck. I loved writing him so much that I had to base my next book on his early life. He comes from the poor East End of London, home to the infamous London docks and therefore a multicultural melting pot in the Victorian era. In my book I’m going to chart his progress from poor workhouse boy to a conjurer who has the power to hold London society in the palm of his hand.

  • BB: We look forward to meeting Walter again, Stephanie. Thanks for chatting to us.

You can read more about Stephanie Elmas here.

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