I’ve always loved books, but writing one myself seemed like an impossible dream. When I went to university, I studied English literature so I could spend my time reading, but didn’t take the creative writing class – I was too worried I wouldn’t be good enough. Instead I graduated and embarked on a career in advertising.
It was on a yoga holiday in Turkey many years later that I decided to write a novel. I went for the yoga, but the retreat came with writing classes and I decided to give it a go. I was lucky: it was run by the very brilliant Philippa Pride (www.thebookdoctor.co.uk) who is Stephen King’s UK editor. She was encouraging, knowledgeable and inspiring, and I found myself starting, tentatively, to write a story. After the trip was over I was able to join an ongoing group workshop run by Philippa, and that gave me the impetus and encouragement I needed to keep going.
I was still working full time, so I’d write when I got home from work, putting an hour in my calendar and treating it like any other task. I’d write whether I felt creative or not, just to get the practice done. I like to write lying stretched out on the sofa, just so it felt physically different to my day job at a desk.
The idea for my novel Everything is Beautiful didn’t come until I was pregnant with my second child. The novel is about an artist who becomes a hoarder, but it was inspired by my toddler son. With the baby coming and incipient changes on the horizon, he started collecting things – I think to make himself feel more secure. I wondered what would happen if an adult did the same, but perhaps for more sinister reasons. My lead character was born.
My second baby arrived born soon afterwards, and I wrote the novel in the stolen hours (sometimes minutes) when my baby slept. Philippa helped me identify what I was writing as uplit, which was a category I hadn’t even heard of, but that encompassed many of my favourite authors: Joanna Cannon, Gail Honeyman and Ruth Hogan. I love reading books that have a dark centre but are ultimately uplifting and make me feel better about the human race. Knowing the category I was writing in really helped me – it gave focus and helped me in my plot decisions. I’m also a big fan of mystery books and find it much easier to write when there’s a big question that drives the story forwards – it just makes pacing so much easier.
I’d done some writing before so had an agent relationship already, and shared the early ideas with my agent Euan Thorneycroft. He thought I was on to something and helped me as I developed the character and her arc.
My mother was a huge asset to me throughout the process – she has a creative background and gave incredibly insightful feedback. And she also looked after her grandchildren to give me time to write! Between her, my agent and Philippa, I felt like I had an amazing support network of people to help me with the book, before I even had a publisher on board. It was definitely a team effort.
I finished the book just before I was due to go back to work after maternity leave, and my agent agreed it was ready to submit. A pre-empt came back really quickly, followed by a small flurry of international deals. I was able to meet my publisher for a celebration just before lock down.
It’s been so exciting seeing the book come to life – and I’ve been absolutely thrilled with the amazing work by my publisher Piatkus – from brilliant editorial feedback to the gorgeous cover to a fun and clever marketing plan. The decision on the title was a tough one. I liked my working title (The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton) – and it’s the one they’ve kept in the US – but we all fell in love with the title Everything is Beautiful for the UK. My lead character Amy really sees all her objects as beautiful – be it the way an empty wine bottle catches the light, or the pattern of a broken mirror echoing a spider’s web. With the country locked down again, we decided to move the publication date back to 15th April to give the hardback its chance in the shops, but the ebook and audiobook were both published as planned on 4th February. I can’t wait to put on a facemask, sanitise my hands and visit my book in the wild!
(c) Eleanor Ray
About Everything is Beautiful:
When Amy Ashton’s world fell apart eleven years ago, she started a collection.
Just a few keepsakes of happier times: some honeysuckle to remind herself of the boy she loved, a chipped china bird, an old terracotta pot . . . Things that others might throw away, but to Amy, represent a life that could have been.
Now her house is overflowing with the objects she loves – soon there’ll be no room for Amy at all. But when a family move in next door, a chance discovery unearths a mystery, and Amy’s carefully curated life begins to unravel. If she can find the courage to face her past, might the future she thought she’d lost still be hers for the taking?
Perfect for fans of Eleanor Oliphant and The Keeper of Lost Things, this exquisitely told, uplifting novel shows us that however hopeless things might feel, beauty can be found in the most unexpected of places
‘This book took hold of me and wouldn’t let me go until I turned the final page’ BETH O’LEARY
‘Beautifully written and thought-provoking’ KATIE FFORDE
‘A gorgeous, warm hug of a novel’ SINEAD MORIATRY
Order your copy online here.