1. Can you tell us something hardly anyone knows about you?
I once nearly cut my toes off with an axe. Not on purpose! When I was living in rural West Sumatra, I decided to chop some wood at a friend’s house for cooking. Everyone cooks on woodfire there and my friend and her family were in the sawah (rice fields) so I thought I was doing her a little favour. I was in bare feet (d’uh!) as I was about to go join them, but I thought I’d do this little favour first.
Well … the axe bounced off a knot and came down right between the two middle toes on my right foot. How I didn’t cut off my toes or sever any tendons I’ll never know — it was a miracle. I still have a very long neat scar on my foot.
2. Do you have a nickname?
Sometimes my family calls me Els. My full name is Eleanor. In Sumatra, nobody could pronounce Eleanor, and they have a famous folk singer there called Elly Kasim, so everyone started calling me Elly (Ellie). So my nickname is basically my regular name — that’s kind of boring, isn’t it?
3. What is your greatest fear?
My family being in danger. But also … all right, I confess, it’s spiders. A spider crawled on me in bed once as a child … urg. Now when my sons hear me shriek, they all say, ‘Oh, Mum’s found a spider again.'
4. Can you describe your writing style for us in ten words?
Raw, observed details and heartfelt emotion wrapped up in mystery!
5. Can you give us five positive words that describe you as a writer?
Tenacious, curious, dreamy, friendly, rewriter.
6. What book character would you most like to be, and why?
Oh, that is really hard! I think I would like to be Anne Shirley, from Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery — she’s feisty, loyal, open-hearted and stubborn, and she chases her dreams. And she’s a writer, so that’s a plus!
7. If you could time travel, what year would you go to and why?
Another tricky one … I think I’d like to go to England, sometime between 1591 and 1597, to see the first performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Maybe get to see Will himself in action. That would be amazing.
8. What would your ten-year-old self say to you now?
I’d like to think she’d say something deep and meaningful, like, ‘Wow, you held onto your dreams!’ But actually, she’d probably say, ‘Crap, I’m never gonna grow taller than five foot two, am I?’
9. Who is your greatest influence?
My husband. He never reads anything I write (he’s a non-fiction man), but he does everything that makes it possible for me to keep going — holding the domestic fort, doing the laundry, working his own job then making me scrambled eggs on toast on writing mornings … He also says things like ‘Slow down, take a break’ or ‘Don’t get a big head!’ when I need to get grounded again. He is the most patient supportive person in my life. My sons are important too — they’re my inspiration, and my biggest cheer squad!
10. What or who made you start writing?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write, so I don’t know what started it all. I read a lot of Stephen King in school — his book Danse Macabre made me believe it was possible to make up whole worlds and characters as a job.
But my high school English teacher, Lorna Ferguson, was the person who pulled me aside after class one day and said, ‘You know, you should really keep going with this’. She dragged me along to my first writers' group. She was a brilliant poet, an eccentric and imaginative teacher, and a great encouragement, and I wrote to her many years later to tell her so — we corresponded until her death from cancer a few years ago.
11. What is your favourite word and why?
Lacunal — I like its sound, but also its meaning: a hiatus, a pause, a missing moment, a space to write your own thoughts in the margins.
I also like ‘banana’. And ‘veritas’. And ‘whisper’. And a lot of popular swear words — their origins are really interesting … Oh, this list could go on all day.
12. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Could I have two? One would be The First Folio of Mr William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies. Coolest book in the world. The other one would be Carrie by Stephen King — his debut novel, fast and flawed and electrifying. I still have the copy I got in high school.
Yeah, weird combo, I know!
Ellie Marney's latest book, Every Breath, is available now from all good bookstores and online; Allen & Unwin, $18.99 RRP.
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