Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author Elizabeth Coffey about what inspired her to write her real life story, And The Little One Said, her creative process, and the advice she has for others.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
Hi there, I’m Elizabeth Coffey, I live in Buckinghamshire with my partner Ollie and my two scruffy little dogs Izzy and Coco-Belle. I’ve been a Hypnotherapist, a make-up artist, a fitness instructor and a life coach (amongst other things) but my one true passion has always been writing. Now my three children have grown up and flown the nest writing has become my new baby. Since 2019 I have published five titles. And the Little one Said, Playing Mum, Playing Dad, The Dream Catcher and E.A.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
Pretty much as soon as I knew how to use a pen! I loved listening to my dad’s bedtime stories as a little child, it fueled my imagination. When I was a bit older, he would come home from work with old unused office diaries for me to write in. I remember the excitement I felt, they looked just like empty books waiting to be written, so that’s exactly what I did.
When did you take a step to start writing?
My first effort was around the age of about 10/11. I ripped out the pages that had been used and wrote a story in dad’s old office diary. Luckily it was red so I was able to write the title on the hard front cover in black marker pen so it looked like a real book. I called it ‘Murder on the 4.30’. I didn’t bother to mention if it was a bus or a train or where it was going or anything (minor detail).
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
I had the idea for my first book ‘Playing Mum’ floating around in my head for about twenty years! It was inspired by the naughty antics of my two boys. The writing process itself took about 2 months from start to finish. I eased myself gently into the world of writing by making it a novella, around 22,000 words.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
My latest book ‘And the Little One Said’ is a memoir. It was quite a challenge for me this one, and took six months from start to typing ‘The End’. Then I sent it to as many agents and publishers as I could. I took onboard their feedback and used it to polish the manuscript over the next 12 months until I knew it was right. So, I guess you could say 18 months in total.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write And The Little One Said?
Ironically, it was something my partner Ollie said to me, ‘you couldn’t write about what happened, no-one would believe you.’ I realized then, I had a story that needed to be told. I started writing ‘And the Little One Said’ for my three children, Dean, Teri and Joe, to help them process their grief. They were young adults when family tragedy struck. My siblings started dying one after the other and it all happened so fast, it was a painful, confusing blur. By writing it down I was able to assemble the jigsaw pieces together in the hope my children would be able to reflect properly and have closure.
Once I started writing I quickly realised my memoir contained universal themes that we can all relate to – love, loss, depression, addiction. It spurred me on to want to help others who are suffering and raise awareness surrounding the subjects of brain injury, mental health, death, in particular suicide, because talking about these taboo subjects is the key to healing.
What were your biggest challenges with writing And The Little One Said?
The hardest part by far was writing about my sister Sally’s tragic death. I pondered how I was going to broach the subject and just the pondering was painful, re-living it in my mind was hard, I cried for weeks until I got it out of my system and was focused and strong enough to write about it. Up until that point I had never been able to say the words ‘she hanged herself’ to anybody. I had to google ‘is it hanged or is it hung?’ coupled with the constant editing, and going over and over how many different ways I was going to tackle writing that sentence eventually desensitized me to those godawful words.
What was your research process for And The Little One Said?
Most of the facts were in my head because I lived it, but I did have to research the finer details surrounding anti-depressants and their side-effects, suicide statistics, mental health, and also brain injury. I wanted to cross reference everything I had experienced or been told to make sure the information I was sharing was one hundred percent correct and not biased or hearsay from my personal experience.
How did you plan the structure of And The Little One Said?
I chose to start in a happy place, the last time we were all together as a family at my brother David’s wedding. Following that, I lost five family members in fairly quick succession. An important part of the structure for me was wanting the reader to know my family and love them like I did, so I wrote mini bio’s for each of them before writing the tragic parts. The bio writing process highlighted how very different my siblings were. They all had something unique and hilarious to bring to the story. I used their characters and funny family anecdotes to balance the dark with an equal amount of light.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did And The Little One Said need?
I did, but I also edited it myself, I’d even go so far as to say I spent more time editing than writing! You cannot edit enough, and you cannot write a book properly without another pair of eyes. I asked friends to check it, I asked editing friends to check it. Every time someone would spot something, sometimes glaringly obvious that I had missed. Then I handed it over to the fantastic John Hudspith Editing Services he helped me hone it even more and when he’d finished, I was ready to present the manuscript to my publisher Mereo Books, and the amazingly brilliant Chris Newton who did the final edit.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?
I think the most common thing wannabe writers say is; ‘I don’t know where to start,’ me included. Sometimes that’s enough of a barrier for it not to happen which is sad, so my advice to anyone is this; start writing whatever you want to write, the first thing that comes into your head, then build the story around it. As I said previously ‘And the Little One Said’ started at my brother’s wedding, I do believe that is now chapter four or five! Also, writing novellas is a good place to start because they’re not too short and not too long, like Goldilocks porridge they’re just right, and very quick and easy to do.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I have a three-quarters written memoir ‘Coffee with Madonna,’ (I’ll leave the rest to your imagination for now) which I started writing twenty years ago. Now feels like the right time to blow off the dust and finish it. I’m really excited about this one, because it’s a refreshingly different subject matter (no deaths involved) about my experience within the music industry. I’ve also got three unfinished novellas that I flit between. One is the prequel to my self-published crime novella; The Dream Catcher, one is horror/fantasy, and the other one is a chic lit. I have a mission to write as many genres as I can before I go to my grave.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Definitely worth the effort, and I am so much more than just proud. The best unexpected part is that I’ve brought my family back to life. People constantly message me and say; ‘I love your family and I feel like I know them now.’ My memoir seems to be making a lot of people laugh and cry, sometimes within the same sentence. I never expected that. The feedback/reviews have been phenomenal. To be able to help others in so many different ways, whether it’s helping them express their own grief, or making them appreciate their family more, is such an amazing feeling. One lady even messaged me to say she decided to stop taking her antidepressants after reading it! And that, to me, is the ultimate accolade.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Elizabeth Coffey is the author of ‘And the Little One Said’ (paperback, £12.99, Mereo Books, 2021)
Facebook page; https://www.facebook.com/elizabethcoffeywriter
Email me; email@example.com