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My First Time with...Elodie Harper

Elodie Harper is a journalist and prize winning short story writer. Her story 'Wild Swimming' won the 2016 Bazaar of Bad Dreams short story competition, run by The Guardian and Hodder & Stoughton and judged by Stephen King. She currently works as a reporter and presenter at ITV News Anglia, and before that worked as a producer for Channel 4 News. Elodie is married with a young son. The Binding Song is her first novel.

Photo: Sophia Spring

Here's the blurb...

Dr Janet Palmer is the new lead psychologist at HMP Halvergate in a remote, bleak area of Norfolk. At first, she was excited by the promotion. Then she starts to see how many secrets are hiding behind the high walls.

A string of inmates have committed suicide, leaving no reasons why, and her predecessor has disappeared - along with his notes. The staff are hostile, the threat of violence is ever-present, and there are rumours of an eyeless woman stalking the corridors, punishing the inmates for their sins.

Janet is determined to find out what is really going on. But the longer she stays and the deeper she digs, the more uncertain she feels.

Halvergate is haunted by something. But it may be a terror worse than ghosts...

Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book.

Driving through Elveden in the winter dark on the old A11 I began imagining a vengeful female figure stalking through the trees. The idea grew and grew, and a story took shape. I had wanted to write fiction before, but this was the first time the story felt solid enough. I made a start and two pages in decided I was going to finish it, whatever it took!

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before starting to write it?

With a first novel I think two thirds of the way through can be the hardest part. You can’t imagine ever finishing and it’s so tempting to start editing what you’ve already done. But it really is better to get all the way through to the end and then revise. You feel so different when it’s complete and can see the story as a whole. The relief is enormous.

What’s your go-to procrastination method?

Making cups of tea or coffee…Then somehow needing to drink them staring into space. That or deciding I need to rearrange a cupboard/desk/wardrobe.

Now that's a creepy cover...

What was the biggest tantrum you had while writing your book?

It was after I had finished writing and revising the MS but was too nervous to send it out to agents. My mum kept asking me what was happening with the book and eventually gave me a lecture. I was very grumpy. Though I’m now grateful she did!

Best thing about writing your book?

Losing myself in a new world – and the feeling when it flows and ideas and images seem to come out of nowhere.

And the worst?

Getting stuck in a plot cul de sac and feeling like you will never escape.

Go-to writing snacks?

Anything edible in the house, including Organix biscuits for babies…

Who or what inspires you to write?

Inspiration comes from so many different places. I’ve always felt one life is not enough, and writing gives you the chance to lead multiple lives: so maybe greed is my inspiration! From a practical point of view my job as a journalist introduces me to many different people and experiences.

The book that changed you?

The Tragedy of Mariam by Elizabeth Cary, a little known play written in 1602. It’s by no means my favourite book but it changed so much for me. I was at university and had always thought women didn’t really write fiction until the eighteenth century – that they allowed themselves to be subjects, and often the butt of prejudice, without a murmur or complaint. Then I discovered women had ALWAYS been writing, often against tremendous opposition and difficulty. It made a huge difference to how I saw myself both as a reader and a writer.

Your pump up song?

Indiana’s Solo Dancing.

If you could share a bottle of wine with one writer dead or alive, who would it be?

Thomas More, author of Utopia, master of irony, early supporter of women’s education, legal genius, Humanist and religious fanatic. He writes with such humour and playfulness, his voice can sound astonishingly modern, yet at other times his prejudice is alien and appalling. He’s never less than fascinating.

One piece of advice you’d give first time writers hoping to get a book published?

Try not to think about publication when you are writing. Of course it’s brilliant if that’s your goal and you should go for it, but I think dwelling too much on publication while you write the first draft can make things twice as hard and stunt creativity. Enjoy it as much as you can, and then during revisions when the first draft is done you can start to think more about where/how you might pitch it.

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