Author Interview: Pat Elliott – All In The Leaves

All In The Leaves by Pat Elliott

All In The Leaves by Pat Elliott

Today I am thrilled to welcome Pat Elliott, author of All In The Leaves, which tells the story of Anna, nearly thirty, living at home and single. When a chance bout of tears leads to a tea leaf reading she is shown a wonderful future: new career, new home, new husband. All by Christmas. All she has to do is get on and make the necessary changes to ensure it happens. When calamity strikes, the battle for happiness begins.

Pat spent eighteen years of her working life in a magazine company, before becoming self employed as a reflexologist. She has had factual pieces published on reflexology and on adopting a dog. All in the Leaves is her first novel, with a second, Leaves for Chloe, currently being written. She has also written a volume of short stories, called At Sanctuary’s Gate.

Pat was born in the Alexandra Palace area of London and currently resides in the Essex countryside, with her husband and adopted terrier. She has a great love for dogs, and is delighted when a rescue dog gets a second chance in life. She also loves to paint in watercolour. Her blog can be found here.

I asked Pat a few question about life, writing and All In The Leaves. I hope you enjoy learning more about her and her novel.

1. Tell us a little about yourself and how you decided to write fiction, after a life working in magazines?

I left the magazine world to set up my reflexology practice. I took up reflexology initially to help my husband, who had a back injury and suffered with subsequent depression. I feel that people who suffer injuries and depression are given short shrift in this world of ours – and if I can help them, I will. Living with injury and depression is not an easy road – either for the person suffering, or the one who tries to help. I see quite a few people who fall into this category. For the helper, it is paramount to maintain outside interests. With that in mind, I like to learn something new. I enrolled on an adult education course which attracted me – Creative Writing, Short Stories. This was such a fabulous course that I signed up for the follow up – Creative Writing, Novels. I was attracted to the fact that after initial instruction, you were out there on your own, getting on it with it. That fits my working life much better than something rigid.

It also means that I can be at home, yet still have an outside interest. The life of a writer can be one of any life they choose to write about. It’s a wonderful escape.

2. Your novel features dogs a great deal. Tell us about the dog(s) in your life

Pat and Missy

Pat and Missy

Yes, indeed. The love of dogs is a theme that runs in my novel. Anyone who owns a dog knows the unconditional love you get from these creatures. We are none of us so full of love, that we couldn’t do with a little extra.

My first dog was a jack russell, Spotty. She lived originally with my neighbours, but they were cruel to her. They’d split her head open by hitting her with a roofing tile – and then refused to take her to the vet. I took her. We spent our first night together under the duvet, on the sofa – after the vet had told us that her life hung in the balance. The first 24 hours were crucial. She lived, and stayed safe in our love for the next 16 years, until she passed, aged 18.

Once Spotty passed away, we went to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home to adopt another, where we met the wonderful Missy. Still a russell, but long legged and long haired – the opposite of Spotty. That was important to me, so that we’d never compare the two. Missy was in Battersea for almost two years, waiting for a home. I have nothing but admiration for the care that Battersea took over her. She was 8 years old when we adopted her. She’s 16 now and still a cheeky little minx – but I like that in a dog.

3. All in The Leaves is about tea leaf reading and has sections that are very spiritual. Are these drawn from your own experiences?

There are elements of my own experiences in the story. I did indeed have an Irish relative who could read tea leaves and was surprisingly accurate. Being the daughter of a Irishman, there is great Celtic lore and spirituality in my genes – and this shows in my writing. I like to weave some of that into my stories. I feel it adds another dimension.

4. The novel explores the beauty of Scotland, and Edinburgh in particular. As someone who lives in Essex, is there a secret yearning to live over the border? 🙂

I do live in Essex, yes! Originally my family were from Waterford, then Wexford, Eire. When the work situation forced some of the younger members of the family to spread their wings, some moved to London and some to Scotland. So I feel quite attached to both. Would I live there? I’d certainly consider it, should the opportunity present itself.

5. All in the Leaves is the first in a series of novels. Did you always intend to write a series?

No, originally, I didn’t. I started to write All in the Leaves as part of my novel writing course. When I spoke to other book reader friends, they asked would it be a series? I quite like each book to have an ending, so that’s what I did in Leaves, but I also saw the possibility that there could be other tea leaf readings and other books. Each complete to themselves. That’s when I decided to make a series.

6. The next book will be about Chloe. Tell us a little bit about it; is it set after All in the Leaves (and will we see more of horrid Howard and adorable Angus)?

Leaves for Chloe is set after All in the Leaves. It charts what happens to Chloe in the year after the end of the first book. Yes, horrid Howard does appear a fair bit in book two, like a bad penny, he always turns up! The adorable Angus also returns, patient and kind as ever. Some may say pushover, but he does have a core of steel.

7. You self-published your first novel. Was that something you intended from the start? How did you find the experience?

All In The Leaves - about tea leaf reading

All In The Leaves – about tea leaf reading

Originally, I would have been thrilled to have an agent and a publisher. However, the more research I did, that route did not feel fine to me. The absolute decider was when I read about one poor man, who’d spent two years of his life writing his book, only to see it pulped after a few months on the bookshelves. It hadn’t performed as well and as quickly as the distributors wanted, so it was pulled.

I understand that they are a business, and shelf space is at a premium, but my heart went out to the man who’d lost his dream. I decided that if I self published, All in the Leaves could stay on the virtual shelves until it found its own market.

I chose to use ebook partners to convert and distribute my book. I couldn’t be happier with their service. I am not the person to spend hours over the computer, trying to work out how to format a book. Nor spend time dealing with different countries’ tax requirements. I much prefer to pay someone to do all that, so that I can concentrate on what I enjoy. Plus, they only take a fee. No percentage of your sales. That was a big plus to me, because it fit my idea of a professional service

8. You’re an artist and a reflexologist as well as an author; how do you manage your time? Do you find yourself torn between your different creative outlets?

No, I’m never torn. Reflexology is my bread and butter. That time comes first. In any spaces between clients, I balance the other two. As a writer yourself, you know there are times that you could bang your head on a wall, in frustration at not finding the right plot or device. In those times, I paint!

9. You have also published a collection of short stories, At Sanctuary’s Gate; how is writing short stories different to writing novels? Which do you prefer?

Short stories are for me quick insights. A novel is more of a slow, developmental burn. My short stories are more observational than dialogue filled, my novel is more about dialogue and personal interaction. I like them both. That’s not a cop-out – they both fulfil a different need in the writer me.

10. Finally, what advice would you give to someone just starting out in their writing career?

Firstly, write! If there’s a class available, get some instruction. A good tutor will encourage, instruct and inspire. If there’s no class, find the resources online or in your library. Help is there, if you look for it.

You can find out more about All in the Leaves and purchase a copy here. Thanks for reading.

Tempus Fugit: 2013 365 Challenge #209

Happy Holly Dog

Happy Holly Dog

I sometimes think an upside of writing novels might be having something to show for the passing of the years. I know time speeds by, quicker and quicker now I have children. But it seems the only way of passing it, and marking it, is by anniversaries of death and marriage (for me both happened in the same year.)

Seven years ago my father passed away and we scattered his ashes at Old Harry Rocks in Dorset (I think Claire might have to pay a visit there today). His dog, Holly, was adopted by close friends of my Dad with whom I didn’t manage to stay in touch.

I received an email this morning to say that Holly is now walking with Dad in the afterlife (particularly poignant for me, after reading two of Pat Elliott‘s short stories from her forthcoming collection Sanctuary’s Gate). Holly’s ashes will also be scattered at Old Harry Rocks, a place of special significance to my Dad.

Old Harry Rocks

Old Harry Rocks

Seven years – 49 for Holly. It feels like yesterday. Truly. I don’t need to look at the pictures or read my life writings from college to remember standing up at his funeral, reading the eulogy that came to me one sleep-deprived night, or to picture us all climbing up the hill in Dorset with most of Dad in a plastic canister (we kept a ‘leg’ of ashes back for my grandma, too old to travel, to scatter alongside her husband at the crematorium. Divided in death, as in life, between his love for Dorset and his need to be near his Mum).

I’m pleased Holly lived so long and died peacefully. I can’t mourn her, because she ceased to be our dog the day Dad died. I know she was loved and happy and provided a wonderful reminder to his friends. For them today must be a sad day. Today they must feel like they lost Dad all over again.

Tempus Fugit: Time flies. From now on I hope to remember it in books, rather than deaths.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Claire strode up the wide grassy incline, dividing her attention between the sea to her left and the raptors overhead. The birds of prey swooped and circled on an updraft, forming a perfect dance of air-born joy.

Two horse riders ambled down the hill towards her. She nodded in greeting and wondered what it might be like seeing the world from that height; peering over hedges and into people’s houses. Maybe horse riding could be my new passion? People who ride become consumed by it. It’s a healthy obsession at least, if a bit pricey.

Out in the bay, a large speedboat carved arcs of white against the cerulean blue. The growl of an engine drifted up to her. Wondering if it was a Sunseeker being put through its paces, Claire stopped to watch. Now that is an expensive pastime. Well above my touch. I’d have to marry a footballer. I could hang out at Sandbanks and see if I take someone’s eye.

She laughed, startling a pigeon pecking at the grass. Who am I kidding? I’m not young, blonde, thin or dumb enough to be a WAG. Actually they’re not dumb. If I thought I could bag Beckham I’d definitely give it a go.

The wind picked up as she came, blinking, out of a copse of trees and crested the ridge. The hedgerow dropped away and all around was sea and crumbling limestone.

Nearby, a young woman sat on a checked picnic blanket, entertaining a baby, while a small boy ran about in the grass. He kept creeping close to the cliff edge, each time eliciting a squeal of alarm from his mother.

Goodness, why would you bring young children up here? Idiocy. Kids gravitate to danger like flies to jam.

Then Claire saw the faraway look in the mother’s eyes as she kept glancing from her son to a group of people huddled near a ledge. As Claire watched, the group threw handfuls of dust off the cliff, nearly toppling from the rocks as the wind blew the ash back at them.

Claire felt a lump rise in her throat.  The tight-knit group of people, some holding hands, other’s hugging one another tightly, spoke of family and love and loss in such volume it seemed to echo around the cliff-top.

How awful, to forever associate this beautiful place with death. Around her the wide sky drew her spirit and the endless sea beckoned her on. Although it wouldn’t be such a bad place to spend eternity.

Rounding the corner, Claire saw the Pinnacles, marching out to sea, and glimpses of Swanage in the distance. It was tempting to carry on walking into town, but that posed the dilemma of getting back to her car. It was a gorgeous day, and she had nowhere else to be. No one expecting her, or harbouring expectations of her. With a shrug, Claire followed the path to town.

*

The phone rang just as Claire was beginning to regret her impulsive decision. Footsore and hungry, and without so much as a boiled sweet in her bag, Claire knew she had broken all the hard-learned rules of walking. It didn’t improve her mood.

“Hello?”

“Goodness, you’re in a temper. Or do you always answer the phone like that?”

“Who is this?” She knew, but needed time to calm down.

“Conor. Where are you?”

“I’m out on the ballard, walking back into Swanage. It’s further than I anticipated.”

“Ah, did you go up to Old Harry and get tempted? Do you need a lift back to Studland to get your car?”

How did he know? Claire sank to the grass to rest her bruised feet and seethed in silence.

“I’m right, aren’t I? It’s not rocket science. It’s a cracking day. The walk from The Bankes Arms is the easiest way up on the cliffs along there, and many a time I’ve been lured to walk the route back to town.”

“Is that why you’re calling? To check up on me?”

“No, I’m calling to offer you a job. If you still want it?” There was doubt in his voice; all brash bravado gone.

Claire’s stomach plummeted as if it had dived off the cliff like the paragliders she’d seen earlier. Damn. It wasn’t a shock. But it did mean she would need to make a decision.

“Can I have some time to think about it? I’m going home to my folks’ for the weekend. I’ll ring you Monday.”

Before Conor had time to interject, Claire hung up the phone. The day fell dark, and she would have paid a large chunk of her counter-offer salary to be whisked back to the hostel and furnished with a hot mug of tea.

***