Looking for La La author Ellie Campbell – also known as sister team Pam Burks and Lorraine Campbell kindly consented to “sit down” for an interview. When coming up with the questions I struggled with what I wanted to know having read the novel with what the reader who hasn’t yet experienced the fun that is Cathy O’Farrell would want to know before diving into the fray. The end result is a little of both. Stay tuned to the end of the interview for information about how you can win your own copy of Looking for La La by Ellie Cambell.
Question 1: I see that you live halfway across the world from each other. How did you come to the decision to write together? My dad and I live quite a distance from each other and that enables us to get along better on a personal and working level. Do you find this to be the case as well?
Pam: In many ways yes. We are less than two years difference in age and we get on extremely well as sisters and friends. However, professionally we’ve found that working apart actually suits us. I have been over to Colorado to visit Lorraine, hoping to work on a few things, and we found we did very little. As soon as I got home we were on email, skype and internet immediately swapping ideas and stories. It seems to work for us better at a distance.
Lorraine: Not to mention that if we disagree on anything we put the phone down (I didn’t say slam it, did I?) and cool off. All sisters argue and it’s easier to be touchy and sensitive if you’re face to face. As for writing together, we were both writing short stories and found we enjoyed sending our work to each other for comment, criticism, suggestions for improvement… a writer’s group of two, if you like. It grew out of that.
Question 2: Your writing style is very cohesive. Is one of you the idea person and the other the writer?
No, we’re both into it all, hashing over the story, sitting down to write a section. Sometimes we can’t wait to tell the other the new idea we had in the night, talking possibilities over and elaborating like a pair of old gossips. As for the ‘writer’s voice’, I think we sound alike even when we talk, it’s quite jarring hearing a story or a joke come out of your sister’s mouth that is exactly what you might have said. There are times when one of us is doing more writing – usually if we’re in a major rewrite – and the other is editing frantically and there are times when one of us feels more creative and carries the load for a day or two. But we both go over each scene, paragraph, line, cutting and reworking if necessary. At the end of the day it’s hard to remember who wrote what and who came up with what plot point.
Question 3: I recently heard an interview where a script writer working in a team said that teams enable a writer to keep the best material because the best material is always that of which you’re unsure. Is there a scene in “Looking for La La” you might have cut without having the assurance of the other person?
We actually cut some of our favorite scenes… for length, or because one of us thought the book could survive without it, and because our final rule is if one of us seriously questions or hates something, it’s out. But yes, we might get cold feet over the day’s work and need the other one to tell us it’s good. As far as specific scenes in Looking For La La, I remember us debating whether having Cathy steal Alec’s glass (for fingerprints) in the office party scene was too outrageous and deciding that given her character (and inebriation) it wasn’t beyond belief.
Question 4: I notice that you’ve quoted Douglas Adams on your Facebook page. I have a number of DNA fans that follow my website. We must know, are you hoopy froods?
Lorraine: Sadly, we can’t claim to be that together. I rarely know where anything is, let alone remember to bring a towel on my travels or carry it on Towel Day. But living in England when Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy came out, first as the BBC radio show and then the book, it was a cultural phenomenon as huge as Monty Python, everyone talking about hoopy froods and quoting the funniest bits. So of course we were part of that and I do remember laughing through the book, though it’s been a while.
Question 5: The story in “Looking for La La” was based on Pam’s personal experience. Did Pam take the Cathy route to solving the mystery? Is Pam the real Cathy?
Pam: Not quite that insane! And I didn’t try to solve the mystery. I decided the postcard was a bad joke or stupid prank but it made a great idea for a novel. However, like Cathy, I had an amazing group of close friends when the children were small and I remember when the children went back to school, us all struggling with decisions of what direction our lives should take – go back to the old job, start a new career, have another child? I was lucky in that I was offered an interesting job which I loved by a very good friend of mine.
Question 6: There is a feeling at several points of the story that what Cathy says is written to ring in an ironic sense to the reader, is this the case? In location 328 of the Kindle copy she comments “And this is supposed to be a liberated society” but she is the one who keeps herself as a “prisoner” at home (in her mind).
Yes, the irony is intended. And, yes, it is Cathy’s fears that keep her prisoner when she obviously misses her former working life and would be a lot happier with more independence, money, stimulation and everything a job could bring. She’s very much in self-denial, full of self-doubt, sticking her head in the sand when she has to face something she is terrified of – in this case change. But then her self-esteem is at an all-time low, she’s lost confidence in her ability to function outside the world of motherhood and her stubbornness comes into play. Because expectations are being made of her and she feels she’s being pushed to action, she’s digging in her heels. But although Cathy’s extreme, a lot of people are scared by that next big move – be it marriage, kids, a career change…
Question 7: Raz and Cathy do the spit shake which could be considered odd for women of their age until you get to know them. Is that something you, as sisters, do in your life?
Well, probably, we did as kids. Can’t remember the last time but I’m sure our hands were pretty dirty and knees scabby. But it’s part of the fun of Raz and Cathy’s relationship that they allow each other to be silly and playful, almost like an escape from their stressful adult lives.
Question 7: Your story-lines were pretty well resolved even down to ones that may have seemed minor – the hang up caller. Did you plot the course before writing “Looking for La La” or was it a case of keeping track as you went along.
It’s very organic. We have certain things plotted and certain things seem to write themselves. Then we might put “clues” in earlier, to tease the reader.
Question 7: Cathy is written in the spirit of the great British comedy characters. If “Looking for La La” were to be made into a movie, who do you see playing her? I must admit, I pictured the great Welsh actress, Ruth Jones, in the role.
Well, Cathy, of course, would suggest Eva Mendes, and she’d probably hang about the set, making a nuisance of herself. She’d love to be that glamorous and sophisticated. But our choice? Ruth Jones would be great. Are you listening, Ruth??
Question 8: Your cover perfectly conveys the novel. Who created the cover?
Andrew Brown from Design for Writers. Recommended to us by Kirsty Greenwood, who is a fabulous chick lit author, who runs the site Novelicious. We felt so lucky to have found someone like him as a designer. He made the process so easy, that we feel indebted to him, and he came up with the idea of Cathy staring over the fence.
Question 9: I recently compiled a list of 42 novels for Towel Day. If you could list 2 novels you think everyone should read, what novels (or non-fiction works) would they be?
If had to narrow it down to two books, I would perhaps say “Gone With The Wind’ and “Lord Of The Rings”. They’re both such epic masterpieces.
Question 10: What is coming next for Ellie Campbell?
We just published our two other novels How To Survive Your Sisters and When Good Friends Go bad in the States for the first time. We haven’t really started to promote them yet so they are very much hidden amongst the millions of other great reads. Watch this space though. We also have a fourth novel which is currently with our agent and which hopefully will come out next year.
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
They were fun. Thank you, Tammy, for asking them.