Today I’ve got the great pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Ridley. After reading her book, ‘The Remarkable Journey of Miss Tranby Quirke’, I knew I had to interview her for my blog!
I really appreciate her giving some time to answer my questions 🙂
So, first things first, for those who don’t know you, can you tell us a bit about how you first got into writing, and what are your recent projects?
I was one of those kids who was always writing, and so writing was always a part of my life, even though I didn’t know then if it would be something I could pursue as a career. My first novel, ‘Throwing Roses,’ was published when I was only in my mid-twenties, so that really got me started in a more professional capacity.
I’ve got several books that either came out in the past few years, or will come out soon. My most recent novel is ‘Searching for Celia,‘ which was published in 2015. I’ve worked on a number of co-written memoirs, including ‘Saving Sadie: How a Dog That No One Wanted Inspired the World,’ with Joan Derse Dauer, published in 2017, ‘IncrediBull Stella: How the Love of a Pit Bull Rescued a Family,’ written with Marika Meeks, which comes out in 2019, as well as ‘The Longest Battle: A Vietnam Vet Looks Back,’ which was co-written with Tim Fortner, and comes out in 2019.
Which writers would you say inspire you the most? What elements of their work can you see in your own?
The book that inspired me the most while growing up was ‘The Diary of Anne Frank.’ I first read the book when I was the same age as Anne, and I felt like I related to her, almost like a friend. Our lives and experiences could not have been more different, and yet it seemed we had many things in common. I see myself as so fortunate to have had the opportunities in my life and career that were denied to her. I never lose sight of that privilege.
In terms of fiction, my favourite authors are Toni Morrison, John Updike, and Gabriel García Márquez.
Your books cover a wide range of genres- from crime to historical. What genre would you say is your favourite to write? And which is your favourite genre to read?
I very much enjoyed doing the research for, and then writing, my LGBT historical romance, ‘The Remarkable Journey of Miss Tranby Quirke.’ I also really loved writing my mystery/thriller, ‘Searching for Celia’ and would happily work in that genre again.
As a reader, I’m especially drawn to historical fiction and mysteries. I’ve been heavily into Icelandic crime fiction lately. I like Arnaldur Indridson and Yrse Sigurdardóttir in particular.
Your new book ‘Saving Sadie: How a Dog that No-one Wanted Inspired the World’, co-written with Joel Derse Dauer, came out in September 2017. How was your experience of co-writing for the first time?
I’ve actually done quite a bit of ghost-writing and co-writing over the years, especially other people’s memoirs, but ‘Saving Sadie’ was the first time I got an on-the-cover credit for my work.
Ghost-writing and co-writing can be really challenging, but also very rewarding. A lot of the time I’m asking people to relive the most painful and difficult times of their lives for the benefit of the book. But on the other hand, the experience can be so fulfilling, both for me and for the person I am writing with. Many of my co-authors have dreamt their whole lives about writing a book and getting their stories down on paper, and I have the privilege of helping them make that happen.
Would you be interested in writing any more non-fiction in the future?
I’ve got a couple of co-written non-fiction books coming up that are memoirs. I’d love to write my own non-fiction travel book, if the opportunity ever arose. I don’t think I would ever write a memoir of my own, though. Maybe my life just hasn’t been exciting enough!
Now onto my personal favourite of your books- ‘The Remarkable Journey of Miss Tranby Quirke.’ What made you want to focus on an English protagonist for this novel?
I’ve been an Anglophile my whole life, or at least since I was about seven, when I first discovered Dickens and ‘A Christmas Carol.’ After discovering British literature, I discovered British TV and film, especially the films of David Lean and Carol Reed, TV series’ such as ‘Fawlty Towers,’ ‘I, Claudius,’ ‘Inspector Morse,’ and far too many others to list.
I always kind of felt like I was living a parallel British life along with my American one, and I became comfortable with British history, culture and language. So it didn’t seem like so much of a stretch to write a novel from the perspective of an English protagonist.
It also helped that I was studying for my MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia while I was writing ‘Tranby,’ so I had all my English classmates to consult about the minor details, and to make sure Tranby and the other characters sounded authentically British.
What got you interested in writing a book set in the early 1900s, and what research did you undertake when writing the book?
I don’t entirely remember what inspired me to write ‘Tranby.’ It seems like the idea always existed. I had read Alice Walker’s ‘The Color Purple’ not long before, and I was intrigued by the challenge of writing an epistolary novel. ‘Tranby’ started life as ‘Fifty Letters to Lysette,’ a novel in the form of an exchange of letters between Tranby and Lysette, but that soon became too confining. So I opened it up to make it more than just letters, although some of the letters still form a major part of the book.
In terms of the time period, I have always been fascinated by the Victorian and Edwardian periods, and how tightly controlled everything was, with all this passion brewing underneath. I was really fortunate with the research because one of our local university libraries has a fantastic archive of suffragist material. I loved spending hours there, poring over documents, photos, and other sources.
Do you plan on writing any other novels with a historical setting?
I would love to! It’s a challenge to find the time necessary to do the research and then the writing, but if the opportunity arose, I would definitely do it. I had an idea a few years ago for a series of historical mysteries set in my hometown of Milwaukee in the era just before WW1, featuring a German/Danish sleuth, based on my grandfather. Maybe someday I’ll go back to that idea!
Finally, what are your favourite books, and, if you were trapped on a desert island, what would be the one book you couldn’t do without?!
Some of my favourite books are ‘The Diary of Anne Frank,’ ‘Paradise Lost’ by John Milton, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J. D. Salinger, ‘The Bluest Eye’ by Toni Morrison, and ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, to name a few!
If I were trapped on a desert island, I would probably bring The Bible (because it’s so long, it would take me a good long time to read everything!). But I would also be tempted to bring ‘Paradise Lost,’ which is also long and inspiring, or perhaps a copy of ‘Hamlet.’ It’s my favourite play, and I always find something new every time I read it or see a performance. One of the great things about being stranded on a deserted island would be finally having lots of time to read for enjoyment!
Thank you so much to Elizabeth Ridley for answering my questions and for agreeing to an interview, I am honoured to be able to speak to such a brilliant author!
If you would like to find out more about Ridley’s latest projects and books, head to elizabethridley.com for more information.
Happy reading x