A Good Day’s Work: All About E by Helen McLoughlin

Writing.ie | Magazine | Interviews | Literary Fiction
All About E by Helen McLoughlin

By Adrian White

Adrian White, editor of Writing.ie, interviews author Helen McLoughlin about her new novel, All About E.

Helen McLoughlin works in the movie industry in Hollywood and is so protective of her identity that for quite some time, as we worked together on her book, she tried to persuade me to publish it as my own. I even went so far as to send out an early draft to friends and beta readers, but their nonplussed reaction suggested this was not some ruse we might get away with. So, why the secrecy from Helen? Why so fearful of being outed as the author? Is she the ‘E’ of the title and is the male protagonist based on some famous director with whom she once had an affair?

No, and no, she replies. It’s more a question of: if people in this business ever discovered that I wrote this book, they’d be projecting some such affair onto every director I’ve ever worked with – and there have been quite a few of those. And by ‘people’, I mean every past and potentially future co-worker in Hollywood and beyond – so thanks, but no thanks. I’d never eat lunch in this town again!

So, how much of your story is based on fact and what elements of the story are pure fabrication?

I came across – heard about but never worked with – an English screenwriter who had bought some fixer-upper miles from anywhere in the Lincolnshire Fens. He was very successful but struggling with the pressure of heightened expectations, which happens quite a lot out here in Hollywood. He thought escaping to some bolthole might help him get over his crisis of confidence but instead the house’s renovation consumed his every waking moment, and he never wrote another screenplay.

And E?

Well, now, E I did once work with, and she was indeed a lowly Production Assistant who was exceedingly good at her job but also remarkably adept at rubbing people up the wrong way. She had absolutely no idea how to ingratiate herself with colleagues – to just get along. She got things done and made herself indispensable on set, and nobody liked her but me. I loved her for those very same reasons.

So, the real E will recognise herself in your book?

I’ve worked with many E characters over the years and not one of them has the self-awareness to recognise themselves in this fictional E.

And her being Irish: this is obviously so important to you, but it lends itself to readers projecting the character on to you, the author.

I know, but I just couldn’t resist introducing that English/Irish antagonism to the story. We’re so close as people but so far apart, and you see that almost-but-just-missing connection wherever and whenever we meet – even out here in La La Land. Think E.M. Forster and his ‘only connect’.

Isabelle Huppert

Why the fascination with the actress Isabelle Huppert? [Helen uses an early portrait of the French actress as her pseudo-profile pic, and the same image is faintly evident on the cover of All About E.]

Well, why not – she’s gorgeous! Both then and now! And what an actress! I thought: if I must have a profile pic, let’s live out the fantasy of my girl crush.

Have you ever worked with her?

I wish! If only . . .

How important is Tommy to the story? [Tommy is the ageing former groundskeeper of the fixer-upper in the story.]

He’s essential on two fronts: his back story, which is presented as a potential Film Treatment, shows the fluidity of the shared heritage of Britain and Ireland. The to-ing and fro-ing, how generations of Irish become future generations of English, how you end up being neither but both at the same time, how important this is to some and how irrelevant for others.

And the secondary importance of Tommy?

Equally essential to the story is Tommy’s old age: the love he has for E and the love she has for Tommy. The age difference in the central relationship of the story – the affair between E and the Writer-Director – is of an absolute irrelevance to E. She is no victim, asserting repeatedly that this is her choice, that she made this thing happen. And yet, for a certain generation, such a fifteen-year gap is just so wrong, so eugh! Whereas, the sixty-year gap between E and Tommy is sweet, because sex doesn’t enter into it.

Or power?

Yes, the power of one person over another is what interested me throughout.

This is most graphically represented in the opening and closing pages of the book. We discussed this at length as you worked on the book, but these scenes – while brief – are more shocking for being so out of keeping with the rest of the story.

Well, those few scenes were the reason I wrote the book – the catalyst that first got my bum on a typing chair, chained to a desk. To get down in words this motif, this refrain, that I couldn’t stop going through my head.

Which was what?

That this was one hell of a way to describe an abusive relationship – or a relationship gone wrong, as you have since persuaded me to view it. The whole English/Irish thing, the hunger strikes, the dirty protests, the force-feeding – the rapes too, I guess.

I’m still shocked – or taken aback – each time I read it. It’s upsetting, very upsetting.

I know, I’m sorry.

And yet the affair is so . . . I was going to say ‘charming’, but it’s more than that. Singular, perhaps, unlike any that I’ve come across before.

I had to fashion a beginning and a middle to justify such a distressing end. To explore and answer the question of how these lovers ended up in such an unholy and nasty mess.

You wanted the reader to know the end from the very beginning?

Well, not the final resolution, but yes – I wanted the reader to know from the get-go that this relationship turns sour. Or, as E puts it: everything turns to shit. This knowledge foreshadows their whole relationship.

Did this dictate the structure of the book? There’s a fair bit of jumping around in time and place.

Hmm, a little jumping around but nothing too demanding for the reader – enough to keep them on their toes, let’s say. I use two headings to differentiate the before and after of the affair: ‘Falling’ can be a falling in love or it can be a falling down, a faltering; ‘Hurting’ can mean you’re hurting someone else or that you’re hurting inside. Appreciating the depth of these two lovely, lovely words was a good day’s work, a good day at the office. And some days, as a writer, that’s as much as you need.

Indeed!

(c) Adrian White

Photograph of Isabelle Huppert © 1988 Festival international du film Entrevues Belfort

Helen McLoughlin on Twitter.

See here to read Adrian’s Writing.ie article detailing his experience of working with Helen McLoughlin as she wrote All About E. And here, for his account of how that experience impacted upon his own work as a writer.

All About E by Helen McLoughlin:

All About E

E is for Aoibhe. (I know – go figure!)

A young Production Assistant for a Hollywood studio in a relationship with her boss – a much older man in a position of power.

As the affair comes to an end, E lies catatonic in her bed, where she is used repeatedly for sex. Only, E is exactly where she chooses to be. She has a plan and she is determined to see it through.

‘There’s something from E’s girlhood that lingers on into her adulthood. Her quiet, her silences. Her default stillness that harks back to the horror, the confusion, the wonderment, the awe, the bewilderment of her sexual awakening. Like: you want to do what to me?’

All About E . . . is all about the shifting balance of power in relationships. About using what you have to get what you want. About wanting it all, having it all, risking it all, losing it all, and finding it all again.

E is for every woman, for every girl there ever was.

All About E is published by Big Sur Publishing. Order your copy online here.

About the author

Helen McLoughlin is from Ireland. She now lives in L.A., where she works as a Studio Asset Manager. She likes to think of herself as a young Isabelle Huppert.

Adrian White is an English writer who has lived in Ireland for over thirty years. An Accident Waiting to Happen was first published by Penguin Books, as was his second novel, Where the Rain Gets In. Both are now available as ebooks. His third novel is called Dancing to the End of Love and is published by Black & White Publishing of Edinburgh.
Adrian is the editor of Writing.ie and works as a consultant to writers through The Inkwell Group.

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