A brand new Q & A interview with Joanna Cannon, as she talks about her second novel Three Things About Elsie, as well as discussing her inspiration, writing process, and the book she wishes she’d written… THREE THINGS ABOUT ELSIE is published 11th January 2018.
1. How was writing Three Things About Elsie different to your first novel, The Trouble With Goats and Sheep?
JC: It was very different! When I wrote Goats and Sheep, I was sitting in a car park, just writing for fun. I didn’t think anyone would ever read it (I thought my mum might read it!) When I wrote Elsie, there was a certain expectation – people were waiting for it, and waiting to see what I’d come up with next. Ultimately, though, writing Elsie was strangely more satisfying, because it taught me that I can write to a deadline and I can write a story I’m incredibly proud of, despite external (but mainly internal!) pressure.
2. What did you want to explore through Florence’s story?
JC: I wanted to write about what it feels like to be old, to be no longer heard. I also wanted to explore our sense of self – if we forget who we used to be, does that mean we cease to be that person anymore? Where identity comes from is such an interesting topic, especially from the viewpoint of an older person, because there comes a point when society begins to see us as nothing more than a date of birth.
3. How does your work inspire your writing?
JC: Whilst I would never write about real patients, working as a doctor definitely taught me that the ‘ordinary’ voices are the most interesting. It also threw up many questions. Elsie begins with a woman in her eighties who has fallen in her flat and is waiting to be rescued. When I worked in A&E, so many elderly people were brought in to the department in the same circumstances. It made me wonder what they must think about as they lie there, waiting for someone to notice they are missing from their own lives.
4. Which book would you love to have written?
JC: I would love to have written THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY. As well as Rachel Joyce’s writing being incredibly beautiful, who hasn’t – at some point – felt like leaving their house one morning and just carrying on walking! Even now, when I’m driving around, if I see a middle-aged man walking by the side of the road, I think ‘oh look, there’s Harold!’ It’s such a wonderful book.
5. What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
JC: More than anything, I hope that people are entertained, but if there is a message to take away from the story, it’s that we are all valuable – no matter how long or how short a time we are here, and no matter who we are, the world will be ever so slightly different, just because we once existed. The smallest life can actually leave the loudest echo.
6. Can you give us any hints about your next book?
JC: The next book is – as always! – about many different things, but it does take a look at envy and comparison, and the strange places we seek out happiness. To borrow (and slightly alter!) a Bob Dylan lyric, it’s about how we shouldn’t mistake Paradise for the house across the road …
84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, Florence wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to light; and, if the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly a man who died sixty years ago? From the author of The Trouble With Goats and Sheep, this book will teach you many things, but here are three of them:
1) The fine threads of humanity will connect us all forever.
2) There is so very much more to anyone than the worst thing they have ever done.
3) Even the smallest life can leave the loudest echo.
Three Things About Elsie is published on 11th January 2018.