Together with the Women's Prize for Fiction, we’ve launched Futures to highlight the talent of the next generation of female writers and support them to have the long and illustrious careers we think they deserve.
After a childhood in Newcastle, Eliza Clark, 27, moved to London to study at Chelsea College of Art. She received a grant from New Writing North's Young Writers' Talent Fund and used it to write her debut novel Boy Parts. Since then she's been prolific, with a collection of short stories out this year and another novel scheduled for 2023. Along with her partner, she hosts podcast You Just Don't Get It, Do You?, in which they discuss film and television.
What was the the inspiration behind your novel, Boy Parts?
Boy Parts is inspired by a fairly broad range of stuff: photography theory, films and aspects of my own life are the core points I pulled from. I did an art degree, and found I was more interested in the writing around the art than the art itself. I’ve always been really into films – we got a DVD player when I was about six, and I used to get a new DVD every couple of weeks as a treat. My mam was into horror films, so I got very into horror. When I was a teenager, I started seeking out films beyond stuff my parents had already seen – world cinema, and so on. The Japanese horror boom introduced me to “extreme cinema” – which really fascinated me.
I became very interested in the treatment of extreme violence as just another mode of storytelling – after-all, real life is extremely violent. Why do we, as a culture, ascribe so much power to fictional depictions of things that happen to real people every single day. This intersected with my interest in photography theory quite comfortably. Real and fictional depictions of sexual and violent imagery became something I spent a lot of time reading, writing and thinking about – particularly in the final year of my degree.
I was also very much informed by my experiences of discomfort in the hyper-middle-class environment of a London art school. After leaving art school, I returned to my hometown of Newcastle Upon Tyne and worked in retail and hospitality and I remember feeling generally demeaned, frustrated and unfulfilled.
Tell us about your journey to publication.
So in 2017 I was working in an Apple Store in Newcastle, having recently graduated university and finding it very difficult to get a non-retail/hospitality job. I was desperate for any job that wasn’t customer facing – but I really wanted to work in the arts and applied for a job at New Writing North.
I didn’t get the job – but they offered me some funding from their Young Writer’s Talent Fund. In early 2018 they gave me training as a creative writing facilitator for young people. I also got to work with a one-on-one mentor (Six Stories author Matt Wesolowski) who read through my work week to week and gave me feedback. It was creatively fulfilling and helped me develop loads as a writer – as well as being a huge confidence boost.
I’d written a heavily abridged version of Boy Parts as a short story, and felt there was more I wanted to do with it. I started developing it into a novel – and Matt continued to help me out with it, even after the funding from NWN had run its course (for which I’m still extremely grateful!)
Around this time, I also got a job working for Mslexia (the creative writing magazine) as a marketing assistant. This really helped me familiarise myself with the professional side of the industry. I completed the first draft of Boy Parts in late 2018, and successfully made it on to a David Higham and Associates open day for underrepresented writers – where I got some great feedback and advice from the literary agents there.
In 2019 I started submitting my manuscript in earnest to agents – but didn’t get very far with that. I was starting to feel a bit demoralised by the summer, and like it was time to focus on my “real career” more – I had begun looking for a full-time, corporate marketing job in London.
Around this time I was hosting a “pitching” event on the Mslexia forums, which were paywalled for subscribers. I would organise and run events where subscribers to the mag could ask writers for advice and feedback – and a couple of these “pitch-a-thon” events with literary agents or small presses. I’d organised our first indie press pitching event and Influx Press were one of the presses taking pitches.
I had decided to be very professional about it, and not to pitch my own manuscript. Alas, the pitches they received were all quite off-base for the publishers present. Influx posted in the thread to outline specifically what they were looking for – and it really did sound like they were looking for… Boy Parts. So, I logged into a sockpuppet account, and pitched my own book.
Influx asked for my book and after an awkward and apologetic email exchange, I sent off the first 3 chapters of my manuscript. Influx came back for a full manuscript request really quickly and I signed with them within about three weeks of holding the event. I also ended up getting that corporate marketing job in London around the same time – and we moved to London a few weeks later!
I ended up switching back to another part-time arts job in early 2020. The pandemic hit, Boy Parts came out and here we are! I’ve now signed with Faber and Faber for my next two books, and Boy Parts has been optioned for TV. It’s been a really mad couple of years!
What motivates you as an author?
I’m not sure. I always used to get singled out by teachers whenever we did creative writing stuff in school, even from being five or six years old. They’d give me spare exercise books to write in, and I was always encouraged to write my own stories outside of school. I think because of that encouragement and being singled out as being particularly good at writing – I always used to say I wanted to be a writer. I suppose it’s just quite innate for me. I’ve always told stories and I’m not much good at anything else.
What is your favourite book by a woman?
Boring answer but probably The Secret History. Donna Tartt’s writing is just like sinking into a warm bath. It's so funny and absurd but it hits you with intense moments of emotion and melodrama. I very rarely reread books, but The Secret History is an exception to that.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
When I was about 13, I posted my first piece of fanfiction online and for some reason I thought a marker of quality was how long I had managed to make a single paragraph (over 1000 words if I recall correctly). Someone commented to say they’d enjoyed my story, but that I should break up my paragraphs more, because bricks of text are hard to read. I’ve never looked back! It’s really rare that you get such a universally applicable and objective piece of advice!
What do you think you’d be if you weren’t a writer?
I still have a day job! So I suppose I’d be working full-time in comms for an arts charity rather than part-time in comms for an arts charity.
Which female author do you find most inspiring and why?
I’ve really loved watching Torrey Peters’ career over the last year. She’s dealt with an extraordinary amount of negativity (particularly in the UK) for succeeding while trans, and has faced that with grace and dignity. Her early work is so transgressive, and I love that she’s kept a punk sensibility while making a real splash in the mainstream – I can’t wait to read the revised editions of her short stories and novellas. Also she’s just very cool! She rides a pink motorbike and has a woodland getaway where – at last update – her and her wife had built an outdoor kitchen from scratch. SO cool.
Do you have any writing routines or tricks?
Not really, no. I’m a pretty disorganised person and any semblance of routine I had was totally upturned by the pandemic. I just used to write in cafes on my day off when I lived in Newcastle but we hadn’t lived in London long when Covid hit, and I haven’t had a chance to find a place I really like yet. I work Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – so I try to write for an hour before work (often unsuccessfully) and for as long as I can on Mondays and Fridays (life/writing admin and meetings permitting).
What’s your favourite Women’s Prize winning book ?
May We Be Forgiven by AM Homes. I’m a huge fan of hers – The End of Alice was very influential around when I started writing Boy Parts. Homes’ work really demonstrated there was a place for women making transgressive work in the literary world. I think she’s one of our greatest living writers!
What do you hope to have achieved as a writer in ten years' time?
Because I was helped so much by New Writing North, I’d really like to be able to pay that forward; I’d love to do some mentoring myself, and to be able to create a pot of money to fund one-to-one mentoring for young writers from marginalised backgrounds. Being able to do all of this as young as I have has made such a huge difference to my quality of life. I would love to be able to help more young people who were as aimless as I was find their feet in the industry early, through training and mentorship.
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