Author Spotlight Interview: Rachel Ellyn
Writing successful children’s books is anything but child’s play – which is why we were excited to sit down with Rachel Ellyn, author of the popular Hamlet the Pig books, which have become especially popular as audio books. A self-described ‘publicists nightmare’, Rachel has written in multiple genres – from kid’s books to romance and thrillers – and continues to focus on telling stories in whatever format she feels suits them best.
There are countless quotes about how everybody is several different ‘people’ throughout their lives – and that certainly seems to describe Rachel Ellyn. With degrees in finance and economics, Rachel’s first career was in the high-flying world of I.T. and financial process consulting – which took her all over the world, including an extended stint in London. Yet that life wasn’t true to what Rachel truly wanted – and the Rachel we talk to today seems the antithesis of the business-focused woman she used to be. For a start – she’s a lot happier.
HG: So, Rachel – who are you today, and how does that serve in the context of you becoming a writer?
RE: After XX years (you’re not getting the number out of me that easily) of living a “grass is greener” nomadic life, I’ve now finally settled into a quaint suburb of Kansas City – which has taught me the meaning to the phrase “grow where you’re planted.” I’ve always had a passion for writing, and now I’m in a position to combine my love of writing and storytelling with the skills, knowledge, and drive that found me a lot of business acclaim in the corporate world. It’s a good combination – and lets me shares off-beat take on the world, and everything I’ve learned where life, love, divorce, and children are concerned.
HG: So, how did you get into becoming a writer?
RE: My aunt/god-mother always told me I need to write a column like Erma Bombeck because of all the stories I would write, which kept my family involved in what I was doing and where I was living when I was working as a consultant. These days, I tell myself I keep writing to save myself from being ‘too blond’. I constantly have ping-pong balls bouncing around inside my head (that’s how I describe my stories and ideas) and if I write them down I get them out of my head. I figure I’m clearing the memory of the computer inside my head, and that’ll give me more processing power. Good theory, right?
HG: You’ve written in many different genres, but children’s books seem to be where you keep coming back to; and it’s the genre you’re best known for. Why did you pick kid’s books?
RE: I have so many stories bouncing in my head, and I write more than children’s books. But they are my love. I think writing children’s books is just as challenging as full-length fiction, because it’s very hard to write a full story in under 2,000 words – especially in a way that a child would love. Equally as important – in a way that a grandmother or mother would love (since they’re the ones actually buying it!)
HG: In some ways your children’s books are characterized by having clear and important messages in them. Where does the inspiration for these messages come from?
RE: My parents! Do good, be nice, love one another! But they come from my life too. I was awkward, shy, geeky as a kid. So how do you teach a kid it’s okay to be yourself? To be unique? It’s fun to write “It’s okay to be weird” stories – and we all want to be loved and accepted. The most important message, though, is the first person to love and accept you must be yourself.
I still have that voice in my head all these XX years later. The one that questions my actions, my looks, just plain ole me. That voice is there every day. Kids need to know that’s normal. They need to know they’re amazing individuals. I hope my books give parents a vehicle to open discussions about that with their children.
My children grew up on stories I would make up for bedtime. And for ten years or so years I worked on one little story. Beating it to death. Never finding the right story for the character. Then finally on one looooong drive it hit me. I wrote the story for Louie Fights the Night in my head on that drive. I came home, wrote it up, and then spent the next ten years perfecting the art of telling children’s stories. I see things… cute things, pictures, puppies and characters pop into my head. It keeps me laughing!
HG: My favorite from your books are the adventures of Hamlet the Pig, star of How to Pack a Pig and A Pig Packed to Piccadilly. What inspired you to create this character – and what takes him to London?
RE: I saw the artist’s work and asked him to make Hamlet into a 3D sweetheart for my books. Who better to teach children about manners, friendship, and life than a pig! I lived in London for four years and figured after the first book where Hamlet and Vivianne learned to pack (a book about materialism and friendship), London would be a great place to take Hamlet.
HG: So what’s your writing process like? When do you write? What’s your setup?
RE: Even though I have an office in my home, I love to write in places with ambient noise and mood lighting (otherwise known as bars!)
I had the best place for years, the Cigar Bar on Grand in downtown Kansas City. My friend was the bouncer/humidor expert. Would drive downtown, about 30 minutes from my house, sit at the front table in the window so I could watch the craziness inside and out. Coffee would magically show up. The singer was a very bad Frank Sinatra cover, and I could write 1,500 words in an hour. George, my friend, would make sure no one approached the table and at the end of an hour I would hug him and drive home. That hour would charge me up for the night. I’d finish the first draft of the piece in one evening. Unfortunately, George passed away and I’ve been on a quest for a new routine ever since. Typically these days I go hit a funky coffee shop or neighborhood wine bar, get 1,000 words in and a bunch of plotting done so I can steal a few hours at home and flesh out the story. When I need inspiration, I hit Pinterest or Instagram and surf art and travel posts. It’s amazing what 10 minutes of viewing Japanese cat drawings can do to one’s mind!
HG: What’s the best advice about writing you’ve ever received?
RE: Plan! I have a favorite planner. It’s not a day planner. It’s more of an idea planner that I have found to be Ab-Fab. The Ampad Gold Fibre Classic Project Planner.
When a story idea hits me I write it on a page and then as random ideas for the story pop into my head I write them down on the page. At some point looking at the story, working title, and the points/ideas the story writes itself. I love this particular planner because I’m a list maker and anal retentive. So, I would rewrite/reorder the notes wasting time. This planner with it’s side margin frees me from rewriting. I can draw arrows or write notes in the margin. Every idea goes in here. Then as I flip through the pages random points get added to each page until you have enough to really ponder the story.
HG: And finally, what are you working on now?
RE: I’m writing a 40-50K novel with the basic premise of what happens when a newly-divorced woman gets introduced to voodoo. And a cozy foodie mystery set here in a southern suburb of KC titled “Mystery Meat.” As for children’s books, I have a mid-grade reader in the works, and two ideas for picture books have been moved to the top of the pile in my head.