E.L Norry Talks … Children’s Book ‘Fablehouse’

E.L. Norry’s latest book Fablehouse is a children’s story based on history and fantasy.

Published by Bloomsbury Books this month, we spoke to Norry about working with Storymix on Fablehouse, how her upbringing in the care system has prepared for life as an author and why the only footsteps she’s following in are her own …

Please introduce yourself …

I’m E.L (Emma-Louise) Norry, a 47-year-old woman, mum of two teenagers – 14 yr old girl and 15 yr old boy, and wife. I work part-time as a Wellbeing Coach and Safeguarding Officer at Bournemouth and Poole FE College. I was born in Cardiff and lived there until I was ten. My mum is Jewish and white, and as far as I know, my dad was from the Caribbean.

How do you think being through the care system has shaped you as a person and as a creative?

Growing up in the care system from 16 months right up until I was 17 has definitely shaped me as a person, positively and negatively. Positively, I am extremely adaptable, resilient, and empathetic. I coped through my younger years by being curious and that quality has carried me through many difficult times, including a massive breakdown when I was 26 which involved being diagnosed as bipolar. Negatively, I do have issues believing in my abilities and trusting my own instincts. I often feel like I don’t fit in and am on my own. I don’t ever set goals or plan ahead or dream, because my past showed that doing those things was a waste of time. On the plus side, it means that I very much live in the present and because I don’t expect anything, am rarely disappointed. In fact, I’d say my ability to reframe almost anything negative into a positive is why I’ve survived as long as I have.

Describe your life right now in a word or one sentence …

Full of possibility.

You became an author because?

As a child, reading was my window into the world. Being a writer and telling stories was all I’ve wanted to do since I was ten. I believe stories are all there is; we are all full of stories. I wrote short stories for over twenty-five years. I didn’t attempt anything longer until I was approaching forty and thought I’d try to challenge myself by seeing if it was possible for me to get past 5,000 words.

Tell us about Fablehouse

Set in 1954, Fablehouse is about four children – Heather (11), Lloyd (12), Arlene (10) and Nat (9) who have been sent away from their birth parents because they are ‘brown babies’ – the offspring of white women and Black American GIs, which was a real historical event after the second world war. Thousands of babies were rehomed. In our Fablehouse, we’ve imagined a Black Arthurian Knight has been reawakened and when the children meet him at a cairn (a mysterious pile of stones), he warns them of a dangerous changeling plot from the fae world which lies right beneath their feet.

How did this particular story come about?

This project wasn’t my original idea. I was approached to write this story by Jasmine Richards who runs a company called Storymix. Storymix are passionate about Black and brown children seeing themselves as the heroes of their own stories. We all know how vital representation is and even as recently as four years ago, there really weren’t many stories with black and brown children as the heroes. Jasmine knew my writing and my care background and asked me if I’d like to write a couple of sample chapters of Fablehouse.

Which came first: the character(s), the world, the story?

With a collaboration, especially one as organic as this was, it can be tricky to pin down exactly what happened and when. Jasmine gave me an outline, but I was free to veer away from it at any point if it didn’t work. Regarding the characters, I took a brief description: ‘Heather, defensive and mistrustful’, for example, and invented their back stories, personality, likes, dislikes etc and their voice. Jasmine had requested that I write the book in the third person, but I didn’t even attempt that because Heather immediately ‘spoke’ to me and wanted to be heard.

A favourite part of the story you hope resonates with the reader?

I invented all the temptations in the fae world, and I am very proud of them. Also, the chapter where the characters discover someone has been turned by the fae had me in actual tears and again, came out of nowhere in one session.

Highs, lows, solutions?

Highs – the first three chapters are almost completely unchanged from my sample chapters way back when. They felt like they wrote themselves. A real challenge was inventing and creating the look and atmosphere of the fae world. I don’t read fantasy and don’t consider myself to have a very visual imagination, so I poured over Pinterest and had lots of discussions with my editor who kept reassuring me that I could do it.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU …

What’s your current plan B? 

Hahah! I don’t plan in the first place, so I don’t have a Plan B. I guess I’d ask work if they could take me on for more days. Not a very imaginative answer, but the realistic one. Stories and characters are how I make sense of my life and the world around us and I’m interested in so much. I’ve been writing on and off since I was ten. So, anyone paying me anything for my words is a literal dream come true. If it all goes away tomorrow? I’d still write because I have to; with writing there is always more to learn. Different age groups, forms, genres – the possibilities are endless.

What’s made you Sad, Mad, Glad this week?

My kids. Teenagers are the funniest and most infuriating species in the entire universe.

What are you watching right now? 

We’ve nearly finished Barry which is about a hitman who wants to be a comedy actor. I’m enjoying it, but preferred Mr Inbetween which has a similar premise. Also watching Succession which I feel is way over my head; I enjoy it intellectually, but it doesn’t totally engage my heart/gut. It’s so rare we watch regular telly, so we keep forgetting that there are new episodes of Inside No 9 too.

What are you reading right now? 

I’m mainly reading proofs of upcoming children’s books. The children’s writing community is supportive and it’s a way to celebrate fellow authors. I have about five on my pile. But I can’t wait to read the books that I’ve been meaning to read for months now, too. Summertime, I have a selection – sometimes I literally just spend time rearranging them depending on my mood, but on that list are Flourish by Antonia Case, The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan, The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan but I also need to read some more myths and legends stuff for
Fablehouse book two. I can read non-fiction alongside a fiction book, but usually I do only like to have one book on the go at a time and I can’t read at night because it keeps me awake.

What are you listening to right now? 

I only really get to listen to music on the school run so that’s either stuff from the past or my kids take over — Taylor Swift or Nujabes. I love a podcast though and often search up a topic and download an episode about it. I currently have about 600 episodes saved on my phone. I love listening to experts talk about film which is my biggest love, alongside a self-development/improvement podcast.

The last thing you saw on stage? 

Bonnie and Clyde, the musical.

What’s on your bucket list? 

Much more travel around Europe, perhaps with the possibility of living in a European city at some point? (Unlikely with Brexit, I know). I’d like to take the kids to the USA, I’d love to see the Grand Canyon.

Celebrate someone else …

Well, Jasmine Richards is smashing it with her company, Storymix. What she has done in just four years is truly outstanding, especially as someone who is helping others up the ladder too.

Celebrate yourself …

I signed with my agent in July 2018. The book she signed me on never sold. But to date, I’ve been involved in 14 different projects – I just said ‘Yes’ to everything, working too hard sometimes, seeing whatever came my way as a wonderful learning curve. Not through my agent, but I even wrote an episode of Eastenders last year too. This book, Fablehouse, happens to be getting the most attention so far, which is very exciting, but please – if you’ve enjoyed Fablehouse, do feel free to check out my past projects or consider me for your next.

Whose footsteps are you following in?

My own, and every woman who is juggling family alongside working and also finding time for her creative passions!

What’s Next? 

I cannot wait for some time and space to dream. I’m looking forward to going to galleries and exhibitions and being inspired and coming up with original ideas for my next children’s book. I’d like to adapt some of my short stories into short films or see if they might work on stage. I’d like to keep learning and growing.

Where can we find you? 

Life is busy – work, kids etc. so I do try to limit my social media use or else I end up feeling rubbish. I’m not on Facebook. I don’t really understand Insta. But I enjoy wasting far too much time on Twitter (mainly at weekends).

Where can we read Fablehouse

Fablehouse comes out 8th June 2023. Then, I’ve got a non-fiction with Adam Rutherford called Where Are You Really From? which comes out in September.

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