Elspeth was born in London, raised in the South East countryside, but returned to the capital to complete a bachelor's degree in Philosophy at University College London. After suffering a period of illness in her teenage years, she chose to move in to medicine, gaining a 1st Class Honours from King's College London in 2012. She's moved up the country, working in Oxford, Sheffield, and finally settling with her fiancé near Leeds. She has worked in general medicine, general surgery, General Practice, inpatient psychiatry, obstetrics, trauma and pathology.
In her spare time, Elspeth loves dog walking, saving up to buy Champagne and helping out her local Yorkshire farmer.
‘You’ll never get a book published unless you write one’
If I’ve done something wrong, I apologise. The first line of a novel is key; it should contain intrigue and introduce conflict (‘if?’ ‘something wrong?’). The first line of mine is a Bowie look-a-like singing, ‘Ground control to sexy blonde,’ but I’m not writing books about antlers bobbing like periscopes in velveteen mists, so maybe that’s okay. I don’t know yet; I’m forty-five thousand words into my women’s fiction book, my first crack of the whip. This makes me a writer, not an author, an amateur alone in my blue kitchen, tapping at a purple Hewlett Packard. A profoundly cheap, plastic-y laptop, the lowest of the low, but when my life spectacularly imploded three years ago, I lost close to everything. I almost lost my life; a miss may be as good as a mile but, some days, when the teetering edge I was pushed too crashes back like a black dog through undergrowth, it doesn’t feel that way.
Writing a book has always been something I said I would do. Likewise, a tattoo. Eighteen months ago, a friend looked me square in the eye, tired of my wittering, and said, ‘You’ll never get a book published unless you write one.’ Clarity dawned, she was right, but from that moment a mill stone was hung firmly around my neck; my dream would remain a dream unless I made it happen. A year ago, I put pen to paper, unselfconsciously hammering away. I’m a thirty-three-year-old doctor. No shadow of my past hints at creative writing, bar boxes of diaries and poems that I burned like a pyre when my troubles started, wishing my teenage memories could also char and float, feather light, into the dewy Autumn mist.
Nine months ago, after two years off, I got back to part-time work in end of life care. As a present to myself, I signed up for a six-week online writing course with ‘Curtis Brown Creative’, a London literary agent. A top one. The kind that won’t publish my shoddily written book in a million trillion years. And I learnt so much, I cried. I cried because I’d started my novel without following the rules. My first line was just a line, my first chapter didn’t hook a reader in with sinking talons, I’d used people’s names in my dialogue… Sins that would get any completed manuscript pushed from the ‘slush pile’ before anyone flicked to page two.
Some people will read this and think, ‘writing is art, it isn’t about rules?!’, and sometimes that is true. But, rules matter to me because not only do I love writing, like an addiction, but I want to earn some living from it and commercial fiction does follow rules, for most of us. Medicine is a profoundly privileged job, but my heart and mind struggle to take it. I’m not after something lavish, I’m happy with a small life, but working in my jeans and walking my dog would be balm to my healing soul. My new twitter clan of writers (and authors) confirm and compound the crippling self-doubt, the writer’s block and terrifying uncertainty, the hard work travelling and promoting books, but I still think it would be easier for my heart-strings than telling a man my age that his fiancé is dying.
Through two of these online courses and hopping on board a writing community on twitter (I’d never used it before, see #amwriting or #ShareYourRejections) I now see links for writing competitions, short stories, flash fiction, this blog. It’s been a way to find a ‘beta’ reader (someone sympathetic, who isn’t your mum, who you swap work with and critique each other’s). I’ve found a free mentoring organisation for women writers and applied (WoMentoring). Their posts keep me motivated, we all share the same doubt. Posts from authors, and following their lives, gives me a goal. My literary hero, Marian Keyes, is a joy and tweets ten times per day; having a cuppa with her would make my hair stand on end with excitement. She, like me, reached her early thirties after a time she might describe as, ‘as rough as a badger’s arse’, and started her hilarious, eccentric, wildly successful women’s fiction. I aspire to follow, which may seem overblown, presumptuous, but in a setting where you have literally no idea if anyone will remotely want your book, until you’ve written and edited the Entire thing, you have, have, have to keep the dream alive.
Looking out from here, over the second half of my book, the only plan I have to hand is a crisis around 75% (in another twenty thousand words). Before that, my main character (MC) will be questioning her life with her bully fiancé, comparing it to her feelings for her mature psychotherapist, then the crisis will unfold. The final 25% of the book will be her resolution. Previously, I thought this constituted the writing of a book. Now I understand it will be the completion of a ‘first draft’, possibly one of three or four, and when I’m finally happy with it, I’ll form a watertight synopsis, work on my ‘pitch line’ and begin the submissions process. Then I’ll let the world decide, while I carry on with book two; 1930’s rom-com? End of life based tragic love story? The word is my oyster.
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I'm generally pulled in a million different directions and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Here's a glimpse of my life - hope you enjoy it! And if there's a big lapse between posts, well, that's the way life goes in Amy's world.
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