It’s not often that I anticipate a book as keenly as Elizabeth Macneal’s Circus of Wonders which is published today!
I first came across Elizabeth after I entered Pivotal into the Caledonia Novel Award in 2018 and despite being unsuccessful myself, I followed the progress of her first novel, the winning entry, The Doll Factory, with interest.
The rest is history, as they say, as The Doll factory went on to become a phenomenal debut in 2019, a Sunday Times Bestseller, BBC Radio 2 Book Club Pick and BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime. It was one of my personal favourite reads of that year as you can see from my review. I have since had the pleasure of ‘meeting’ Elizabeth at her author talk with Books on the Hill and she kindly agreed to answer some questions for my blog in advance of publication of book number two!
What or who inspired you to first begin writing?
So many children dream of being authors, largely because I think it taps into that childish preoccupation with fantasy and play and making up stories. I certainly felt this way – I spent hours shut in my room, scrawling stories and drawing my characters. I suppose I never really grew out of that.
Your second novel, The Circus of Wonders, is about to be published, how has the experience differed from that of your debut, The Doll Factory, both in the writing and the pre-publication activity?
While on the surface of things, my life as a writer hasn’t appeared all that different – nine hours a day glued to my desk – but it’s been a big change psychologically. The Doll Factory was an accumulation of a decade’s interest and research, all written quietly and with little expectation. Circus of Wonders was written with the knowledge it would be published. In many ways, of course, this was an immense privilege – but I did have to try to forget my readers, to remind myself that I couldn’t please everyone, that all I could do was my best.
What advice do you have for authors who are concerned about so-called ‘Second Novel Syndrome’?
To sit with your book and keep ploughing on. When I was finding things more difficult, I took great solace from reading articles by authors I admired, all documenting their struggles with their second novels. I realised that the voice in my head that told me I couldn’t do it and that I only had one book in me, was an emotional response rather than a factual one. So many authors struggled, and so many wrote brilliant second novels. The self-doubt didn’t seem to be rooted in any fact. Once I realised this, it was so much easier.
What kinds of support would you recommend to writers looking to develop their craft/finish their first book and where can they find this support?
Find fellow writers in the same position as you, whether that’s through a creative writing group or just on twitter or Instagram. I found sharing work to be very helpful (though of course it needs to be reciprocal!) – as soon as you’ve found someone who ‘gets’ your work, it can be a tremendous support and really push your writing to the next level.
If you can afford to take the time (and there are many generous scholarships to cover the cost), the creative writing MA at UEA was absolutely invaluable to my writing, both in developing my craft and in finding other writers in the same position as me.
Which three books have made the biggest impact on you in your life?
Coram Boy by Jamila Gavin, Middlemarch by George Eliot, Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter.
What do you wish you had known before you started writing?
I wish I’d known that I’d get here eventually. Through the novels that didn’t find a publisher, or the second novel I didn’t know if I could write. Some of those days felt very hopeless and panic-filled. So I wish I’d known that I’d be holding two books I’m very proud of, and that I am excited to write more.
For the chance to attend one of Elizabeth’s event follow this link
If you’d like to order your copy of Circus of Wonders please click here. Mine is due to arrive today and I can’t wait to get started. I am confident it will be good. Who knows, it may even be one of my 2021 favourites too.
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Nikki Vallance ©2021