Elen Caldecott is a childrens and YA author who wrote The Short Knife, a book I previously wrote a review on.
I got in contact with Elen and asked if I could possibly ask some questions on her career as a writer and on her book ‘The Short Knife’. Not only did she respond quickly, she also said yes! I appreciate when anyone takes the time to answer some of my questions and I can’t thank Elen enough!.
1. What made you become a writer and primarily with children’s books?
I’ve written since school. It was always a hobby and a passion. I had a fantastic teacher who encouraged me early on. Books for young people are pacy, challenging and fun. When I started writing them, it felt like home.
2. What gave you the inspiration to move on from children’s books to writing a YA novel? 3. Was there a reason you decided to set the ‘The Short Knife’ in the past and would you write more historical fiction?
I started writing it with language as the main inspiration. I wanted to write a book that was in English, but inspired by Welsh. I didn’t have a plot in mind, I had a voice in mind. I decided the most interesting time to write about, given that I wanted to write about Welsh meeting English, was when English first arrived in the British Isles. That meant it had to be a historical novel, and, given the complex nature of that meeting, it had to be a book for slightly older readers.
4. Were you particularly influence by any other authors or novels to begin your career or specifically to write ‘The Short Knife’?
I love to read – I always have. So, I rely on other writers to fuel my reading. I learn so much from other writers. In the case of TSK, Catherine Johnson’s ‘The Curious Tale of the Lady Caribou’ was influential, in the way that she gave herself permission to imagine the lives of people who are quite shadowy in the historical record.
5. What process and research did you have to follow and conduct in order to write ‘The Short Knife’?
I did a lot of research on the language. I retranslated a dictionary of Welsh idioms and played with Welsh grammar. I also researched the time period, with visits to experiemental archaeology sites like West Stow Anglo-Saxon village.
6. Regarding your book, ‘The Short Knife’, was it a conscious decision to make the main protagonist a female with a strong, resilient personality?
I always wanted to tell women’s stories, yes. Not just Mai’s, but the female community she is surrounded by.
7. We see the story flip between two different times in Mai’s life before they catch up to each other, what made you write it with the two timelines rather than just one?
The plot of the book is based on an old legend of Hengist and Vortigern. That legend ends with a massacre. So, I knew that the finale of the book would have to happen with that dramatic event. However, I didn’t want Mai’s story to finish in that spot. So, by mixing up the timelines, I was able to give her a much longer epilogue than is usual.
8. To me, this book spoke about identity and language and this was one way I felt many people could relate to, was it originally going to feature those themes or did they happen naturally during the writing process?
It always was about language. I wanted to experiment with languages, more than anything. But identity is so often tied up with language so that ended up become an important theme organically.
9. Do you plan to write any more YA novels?
I might. I don’t know. That’s not what I’m working on right now, but who knows after that.
10. Do you have any advice for an aspiring author or writer?
Be curious. Experiment. Play. Words are a tool, in just the way that clay, or paint, or musical notes are the tools of other artists. Don’t be afraid to mess about with words – sometimes what you do will be awful, but sometimes you’ll make magic.
I loved all of these answers and I felt it gave me further insight into being a writer, the process of writing and of the novel itself. The link to Elen’s website is: http://www.elencaldecott.com/
if you havent read this book yet I recommend you do! Not only is it a great book, it was written by a gret author!
Many thanks, Caitlin x
(PS please feel free to like comment or share)