Q1: Tell us a little about yourself, what are you up to at the moment?
Ella: For my day job, I work as an NHS speech therapist with children and young people with a mental health disorder and learning disability. As a carer for my autistic son, I am amazed by how he teaches me how to parent him, and to see the world differently as a result. Writing comes third but is no less valid. I’m proud to be running a women’s poetry collective and we’ve just created an anthology about the power of sea swimming to change lives: Morvoren.
Q2: What matters most in the creative world - ambition, luck or talent?
Ella: All three plus the tenaciousness to keep on trucking. I think women in particular (especially those who are also carers) have an innate ability to work hard and to make their own luck. Since Covid, the online world has opened up and created more opportunities to find those pockets of time that would otherwise slide away from us. I wouldn’t describe myself as ambitious but I do believe the reader (and listener, and viewer) is as important as the writer: if the words are heard, then they hold power.
Q3: What made you enter the prize and how did you find out about it?
Ella: I started writing at forty when I started an adult education evening class in Creative Writing. This changed my life – from then on, I wrote every moment I got. When the kids were asleep at night, early mornings before anyone woke up, in laybys, in lunch breaks...it was like the words came flooding out. My first writing teacher, Kath Morgan, later set up a writing school (the Writing Retreat). She emailed me the information about the Perito Prize and I immediately thought of this story. A prize that celebrates diversity and inclusivity makes me feel warm and joyous inside.
Q4: Some people may not have read your story yet. Tell us what ‘Knitting For Teenage Boys, 1988’ is all about?
Ella: It’s firmly set in the late 80’s, which is when I went to my local state secondary school. Times were tough and travelling by bus filled me with horror. We tried our best not to stand out and not be outed as ‘other’. And yet...what if that person at the back of the bus was something special, someone magic. What if ‘other’ meant beautiful difference, rather than a target for bullies?
The concept of taking up a hobby to fit in came from an old friend who masked her neuro-diversity. She sat in the staffroom, and the other teachers asked her what she was knitting. She smiled: ‘Combat hamsters.’ Nearly right, Jo. So nearly it’s wonderful.
Q5: Tell us a little about who your creative inspiration or mentor is and why? This might be a favourite author or place to work.
Ella: I’m awesomely inspired by my children. They are my bugbear – ever tried working in a busy family household?!- but also my muse. I need to have my laptop in the spare room, surrounded by piles of ‘to do’ and stuff that must be tidied away. This absolutely fuels my creativity. The noisier it is, the better I get at screening the world out and getting on with putting fingers to keyboard. I also read widely and wildly, late at night usually. This connects me to the conversations that poets and writers are having with the world through their writing.
Q6) Does the place you live or are from inspire you in your work or life and if so how?
Ella: We are all totally unique in our life experiences. I lived on a boat for the first five years of my life and I choose to spend a month of every year sailing, even now. Cornwall is my home and I was brought up in a small rural community. Nature and the sea is a backdrop to my family; there is a curative strength in taking a cold water swim or going for a restorative walk in wilderness. We all need to connect with the world we live in and we need to ensure this is accessible for all.
Q7) As you know the Perito Prize is dedicated to inclusion, access and inclusive environments. Did you find the topic difficult to write about?
Ella: No. My world has changed, as it has for so many, since the pandemic. At first, I thought it had shrunk. My son couldn’t leave his room, let alone return to school and I reinvented myself as his carer. I felt alone. Gradually, my thinking shifted and now I find myself a passionate advocate for inclusion across all environments. Perhaps I’ve learnt to empathise and need to shout about it. My writing voice has got louder and this was unplanned – I simply write what I know.
Q8) What was most valuable about going through this writing process for you?
Ella: Seeing from another’s eyes, thinking from another’s place. Not knowing but guessing. We can never be another person, but we can be kind and we can listen.
Q9) Has this prize made you think differently about how inclusive and accessible the world we live in is?
Ella: Yes, it’s crucial to value difference. As nature is such a healer for me personally, it’s important to consider how accessible the natural environment can be. If we are to save our planet, we need to value every speck of dirt, every leaf, every splash of water.
Q10) Are you planning on building the concepts you incorporated into your entry into more of your work? If so, how?
Ella: Let’s make more people laugh, rather than cry. As an NHS professional working within mental health, I’ve heard many fabulous and fascinating stories I can’t tell in my writing due to confidentiality. However, I trust my subconscious to come up with the goods: if I’m honest and true to myself, the words will emerge and out themselves.