Today, on my Wednesday interviews with fellow Honno authors, I’m chatting with the fascinating Alys Einion
Tell us a little about yourself as writer and as person.
I am a woman with a complex identity, and I find it hard to put it into words – which is odd, for a writer! I have always seen myself as a writer, even before betting published. I have a deeply spiritual nature, vivid dreams, and a vast imagination. I love deeply and faithfully and I am tolerant, open-minded and non-judgemental. But if you cross me I don’t forgive easily. I love nature, and find faith, spirituality and religion fascinating. I am also somewhat fixated on the idea of fate and of choice. My novels reflect this. I love to sing, listen to music and drum with my friends. Music helps me write – the right pieces will drive me through crucial parts of my writing. For example, one section of Inshallah was written with Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black playing over and over again. I just needed the song to make me feel what was necessary to write that particular section of the work. I will put music on to enter into the story space, get the flow going, and then choose specific music to achieve the right flow. I couldn’t write without music.
I have always been self-driven and very determined to achieve my goals, but I have also had to balance home life, family life and working in a very rewarding job with being a writer. Everything I have achieved has been because I set my mind to it, but I have been lucky in finding love and support along the way.
Inshallah, published by Honno, took seven years to write. Seven is a significant number for me. It is the culmination of years of ambition and the result of finally learning both the craft and the discipline of writing. My current work in progress is also the result of years of thought and reflection, and is more personal than Inshallah was, derived more from my own experience. It is based on something which happened in my 21st year (3 x 7) and which was the pivotal experience of my life. I think I focus a lot on ‘watershed moments’ in my writing and in the way I see the world.
I love the physical act of writing, putting pen to paper. I like to use a fountain pen, and have several lovely ones that are perfect. I like nice notebooks and my novels are written on yellow legal pads. Don’t know why.
Ultimately, if I could have all my wishes, I’d live in a bookshop/library/restaurant/stationery shop in a wood in the middle of nowhere next to the sea on a smallholding full of fresh vegetables and herbs with gardeners and plenty of supplies of food and champagne and my partner next door. That about sums me up.
How did you come to writing?
I was always an avid reader. As a small child, books were my greatest pleasure and comfort, and I would spend hours reading each day, when I was allowed. I learned to read earlier than my peers, and to write as well. My mother was a book-lover and a librarian, and we discussed writing books. One day, seven years old, I had a true epiphany. I wanted to be an author, a novelist. I wanted to write books like the ones that I loved. So I started writing, little stories, and when I was eleven years old, started keeping a diary. But it didn’t last. Then, on my thirteenth birthday, my mother bought me a red notebook cover, for a reporter’s notebook. I started a diary again, and I have kept one ever since. I always saw myself as a writer, trying to be published. I wrote a novella when I was 16, a terrible, angst-ridden story which nevertheless has some merit. I wrote short stories and started many novels but never really progressed, until I was in my twenties, when I wrote two novellas in six months, unpublishable but very powerful for me. I kept on writing and trying to get published, and in my thirties , took it so far as to study an MA in Creative Writing, and later a PhD. That helped me to achieve the discipline I needed to get published.
You have created great characters. Which one is your favourite?
My favourite character is Amanda, the narrator. I think she is a very flawed person, but someone who is capable of truly loving her children and her friends. She is a survivor. She isn’t very likeable initially, but she finds her strength and is unwavering in her devotion to her children. And she believes in something outside of herself, that she has some kind of path and purpose in life. I relate to that.
Who would you cast to play the characters in a movie?
I would have Angelina Jolie play Amanda, not sure about the others.
Are you like any of the characters (and how so)?
Like Amanda, I have faced personal tragedy and survived. I believe we are here for a purpose, that we are faced with choices and all that matters is how we respond. Like Grace, I have been a loving friend and support to a woman suffering domestic violence.
Were the plot and sub-plots completely planned from the start or did they change during the process, and if so, how?
The plot was planned from the start, but right up until the end I was still unsure about how I would end it. I knew that I wanted to give real closure to the story, but a part of me wanted a shocking, sad ending, because so many women experience what Amanda experiences. However, I also grew to love Amanda and just had to have the ending I chose. I had a set of incidents that I wanted to include in the story, but everything in between came during the writing process.
What is your main reason for writing?
I absolutely love writing, and feel like I am myself when I am writing. It relaxes me, makes me feel good, and allows me to explore the boundaries of my imagination. It also allows me to explore my personal experiences from different perspectives, and to feel as if I am connecting to others as they read the work. I enjoy it so much, even the boring bits, and I love being an author. Meeting people who have enjoyed my book makes it all worthwhile.
What are the best and the worst aspects of writing?
The best aspects are the ‘flow state’ when I am writing the first draft, when I feel the characters speaking to me, when I simply can’t write fast enough. And then, the experience of writing a really good bit – my hair stands on end, I start to cry, because I am moved by the prose and the power of words, and I can’t believe I did that. It’s an act of creation and I stand in awe of it sometimes.
The worst aspect of writing is not having enough time to write, and having to balance working in a ‘real job’ with writing. I get frustrated because I just want to say ‘sod it’ some days. And getting inspiration for an amazing story during the drive to work, only to have it disappear completely by the time I get to my desk.
How do you balance marketing one book and writing the next?
Not very well! I try to think of them as entirely separate entities, but the awareness of one novel impinges on the other a little. But each book seems to occupy its own psychic space, and once I enter that space, then it is all about that particular work. My work in progress is in its final stage of editing, and I feel now, as I did with Inshallah, that it is an entity in its own right, almost as if it is a child ready to leave home.
What do you do when you don’t write?
I work, cook, eat, and read a lot. I watch films, visit friends, spend time in nature. Sometimes I meditate. I spend time with my lovely son. I spend time with my partner and go out for meals, or to the pub. But most of the time I still feel as if I want to be writing, and I always carry a notebook and pen with me. I write in the spaces around things – in the few minutes when the person I am with has gone to the bar or the loo, when waiting for a train, or waiting for an appointment. I often write whilst watching television, so I’m writing a lot of the time. And if I’m not writing, I’m reading.
Tell us one odd thing about you and one really mundane thing.
I am a junior black belt in a martial art.
I have a weakness for pot noodles and trashy fiction (often both at the same time).
What else would you like us to know about yourself and your books?
I truly believe that women have rich inner lives that we know little about. I write to express my own inner life, my feelings, my world view, the dreams and imagination that give depth and colour to my life. My books are truly written for and about women but are not exclusively for women. But they are deeply personal as well, and are always inspired by something I have experienced which I feel needs to be explored. I believe that plot and structure is really important to keep the reader interested, but that every writer pours some part of themselves into the work. It is all made up, but it still has to be real.
Given the chance, I would spend more time writing.
What is your advice to new writers?
Write. Write some more. Read widely. Keep writing. Then edit. Don’t listen to anyone but a professional editor or teacher. Edit, shape, then leave the work for a while. Come back to it a few weeks later with fresh eyes. Then fix the obvious flaws. But don’t ever believe it is done until your editor says so.
Who are your favourite authors?
Alice Walker. Starhawk. Maya Angelou. Margaret Attwood. Sarah Dreher. Scarlett Thomas. Fiona Cooper. JRR Tolkein. CS Lewis. Stephen King. Terry Pratchett. Anne McCaffrey. Sarah Waters. Phil Rickman. Barbara Erskine. Jean M Auel. Karin Kallmaker. JK Rowling (yes, I know!) And many more . . . .
What is your favourite book?
That’s a difficult question. I have so many. My favourite books are:
Starhawk – the Fifth Sacred Thing.
Margaret Attwood – The Handmaid’s Tale.
JRR Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings.
Stephen King – On Writing
What makes you laugh?
Champagne. Simon’s Cat. My son, when he is being funny. I laugh with pleasure at beautiful sunsets, flowers, books and children.
What (not who) would you like to take to a lonely island?
Pens, ink, lots of notebooks and my ipod (and a solar charger). A crate of champagne, a fridge, and a decent pillow.
And some more pens. And obviously, a box of books. A very big box. Maybe a crate. Or a mobile library van full of books. Yes, that sounds about right.
And some pot noodles.
And a fork.
Would there be nice veggies on this island? Being vegan, I might have to take extra supplies, such as tofu and garlic and onions and peppers and mushrooms. And really good curry powder. And a good pan to cook in.
And spare pens and spare notebooks, just in case. You can never have too many . . .
And maybe a backup library van. How long am I going to be there?
Hmm. Difficult. Can I just go and spend a month in a library instead? Then I won’t need the vans, just the other stuff.
How do you handle criticism of your work?
I think about it. I take on board the comments and think about whether I need to change anything for future work. If the criticism is unfounded I simply ignore it. Truly good criticism is a tool – anything else is just someone having a rant.
Alys’ book can be found at: