You could say Ellen Simpson is on top of the world right now: the web series she co-creates, Carmilla, is a smash hit with over a million views on YouTube, and her new Ylva book, The Light of the World – a young adult urban fantasy/historical novel hybrid – currently has a four-star rating on Goodreads.
What better time, then, to sit with Ellen and have a talk with her about how she wrote The Light of the World, what she admires about its main character, Eva, and, well, her interest in craft beer? Read on to find out more:
- How would you describe The Light of the World? What is it about?
The Light of the World is a story about finding your purpose in life. It’s a mystery seeped in fantasy and history as seen through the eyes of a young woman who is still trying to figure out if she wants to live her life, let alone what she wants to do with it. Eva is just recovering from a depressive episode that left her nearly dead by her own hand and unable to continue her schooling. She is directionless, struggling to deal with the loss of her grandmother. The mystery she finds amongst her grandmother’s things is enough to start to pull Eva forward, and it helps her find a purpose for herself once more.
- What sparked the idea for your book?
I wanted to tell a story about a family secret, a powerful force for good, and finding your place in the world. There are elements of my family history in Mary’s character: my two grandmothers are sort of fused into her along with a healthy dose of my love for all awesome historical ladies. In a sense, I wanted to write a story that would be relatable to a lot of people just coming out of school as well.
- What do you admire about the character of Eva, and what are her flaws?
I really admire Eva’s tenacity. She’s very determined, but she isn’t without her moments of self-doubt. I think that it’s really important in character development to give a character a sense of purpose beyond figuring themselves out. Eva desperately wants to be more than the sum of her own failures. She is in a place where she can finally change some aspects of her lot in life and she is determined not to let any of the weirdness of the mystery she encounters get in her way. In a sense, though, the best part about Eva is that she is flawed. She’s a bit whiny, she’s immature. She doesn’t know what she wants to do with herself and is living with depression. Yet she has a good heart and is a wonderful friend to those closest to her. I admire that about her – that she is able to move past her own failings in order to be there for others.
- Did you plot out the entire book before you started writing, or did you explore where the story would take you?
I used the snowflake method actually, which is a good story building technique if you want to develop an idea quickly. The Light of the World was originally written during National November Write a Novel Month here in the US in 2013, and I decided to embark on doing the challenge of 50,000 words in 30 days about three days before November started. The snowflake method was really helpful for me, because it forced me to boil down the plot of the story into a single sentence, and then five, and finally a page of content. In doing that, I was able to think critically about what the characters needed to do in order to tell the story. I spent more time developing the characters than the plot, which caused quite the snafu when I realized that adding time travel to this story was really not on the market or a good idea and had to completely rework the second and third parts of the story. In a way, I guess, I did both, because the end was by the seat of my pants, while the beginning and middle of the story were very well planned.
For the record, I finished in seventeen days at approximately 76,000 words.
- What are you currently reading?
I just finished the Englesfors Trilogy by Sara B. Elfgren and Mats Strandberg. It’s a wonderful young adult trilogy with themes of magic, female friendship, and an honest look at what it’s like to be a teenager that you don’t see very often in young adult literature. The characters are striking and real, despite the supernatural elements of the story, which is exactly what I want to read in a story about teenagers. I cannot recommend this series enough, Elfgren and Stransberg are great people and their trilogy deserves every accolade.
Currently I’m reading The Bone People, and am enjoying the journey through New Zealand’s Maori culture via the beautiful prose of Keri Hulme. It’s a story about friendship, something I love reading about, and it’s written so creatively that I can’t put it down.
- What do you do when you’re not writing?
I like to run and am very into the craft beer scene in my city. I like to go hiking with my dog and spend time exploring the state I’ve come to call home.
- Are you working on a new novel? What can your readers expect next?
It’s been put on the back burner for the time being, but yes, I am. It’s the story of a girl with extraordinary abilities, (cliché, I know) and her struggle to find her place in a world that is both similar and different from our own. I talk a lot about books and their importance to the people who read them in this story, as well as what it means to be an outcast who isn’t understood by society. It’s called The Readers of the Grand Library and it is focused on a group of people who can read books aloud and bring them to life.
- How can your readers stay in touch with you?
I have a pretty active blog on tumblr @anamatics and am on Twitter @anamatics as well. Feel free to drop me a line there. I have an account on wattpad, @anamatics, where readers can read a preview of The Light of the World as well as check out some of my other original pieces.
Thanks for talking with us, Ellen!