Dog-lover and author of Dog Days Ericka Waller talks me through her writing process and all the work that goes into turning her ideas into amazing novels. She also tells me about her dogs, so she’s automatically awesome!
Tell me about your career background. How did you become a published author?
That’s a long story. I always loved reading and writing. I did well in English but didn’t go on to university. I fell into marketing, which I didn’t really enjoy. Office life was not for me. Chats round the water cooler and drinkies after work. It felt like being the weirdo at school again.
The sudden loss of a close friend (aneurysm while at work) made me realise life was too short. She left three children under nine without a mum. I’d just had my first child. Suddenly my life felt like a bomb. I left my job to get my NCTJ in journalism. I already wrote a blog about my life as a mother. I ended up becoming a columnist for the Brighton paper. I had two stabs at getting a book published during that time, and then finally got accepted onto the Faber course for Novel Writing.
The rest is history. That is a very short version, which does not include my anxiety, or the many almost misses and luck along the way. Nor does it do credit to my husband who demanded I not give up and forced me on the train to London for the course each week.
Tell me all about Dog Days. What inspired you to write it?
Grief, suicide, sadness and awkward women! I lost a very close friend (yes, another one) very suddenly. He was involved in the Shoreham Air Disaster. I think I needed to exorcise my grief, hence George. George has more than a dash of the friend I lost, Maurice, in him.
My husband also lost a friend, to suicide. I saw the black hole it left in people’s lives and realised how you never really know how people are feeling.
I wanted to write a character who turned out to be a lot more vulnerable than he appeared. Debunk the myth it’s a selfish thing to do. It’s tragic yes but I don’t believe it’s selfish.
I suffered from post-natal depression after all three of my children and found it fascinating to wake up with a completely different head to the one I was wearing the day before. I thought about books like The Yellow Wallpaper and the idea that women think themselves in and out of things. It’s so damaging!
There is still a lot (too much) pressure on women to have a baby, start an organic candle making business, lose weight, breastfeed forever and enjoy every second of sleepless nights, nipple hairs, a lack of pelvic floor and never being able to anything for yourself without guilt weighing you down. Real life is had. I wanted to write a complicated woman, neither mad nor bad, just struggling.
Why do you think readers will enjoy reading your book?
Hopefully because, all of the above aside, it’s funny and honest and real and encourages the reader to live in the moment and enjoy what and who is important in life. It may change opinions on suicide, post-natal depression and even really grumpy old men! Obviously, it’s a hard sell on getting a dog…
What books do you like to read and how do they impact on your own writing?
I love character driven books. Anne Tyler is my favourite author. Her characters are so real, so happy and sad and honest. I still think about them. I also love Katherine Heiny, Mary Beth Keane, and Dianne Setterfield. I love irrelevant character traits damaged people. I am not plot driven. I care more about the people than the story. I love Fredrik Backman, Hanya Yanagihara for the worlds they create, and oh god I could go on and on and on.
Is there anything else that influences your writing (places, people, films etc)?
Music and poetry yes. I think my brain absorbs a bit of everything, people, places, experiences, sounds, memories, and trauma, chews it up and then spits it back out a while later as a book. It’s not a conscious decision I make. I didn’t choose to write Dog Days. George, Dan and Lizzie moved into my head and refused to leave till I exorcised them. I do like to explore films and books I’ve not read or seen before in between writing, to see what comes out afterwards. I watched a lot of Poirot and listened to a lot of Dean Martin while working on book two…
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Anne Tyler I think, probably. Yes her, or Fredrik Backman because I love them so very much. Can I have two? Can we live together while we write?
I’ve got to know- how many dogs do you have and why do you love dogs so much?
I have three dogs. A Labrador called Buddy, a miniature dachshund called Wiener and a Griffon called Enzo. I love that they love me unconditionally. I need that. I am impossibly hard on myself and finickity to live with. A real Virgo-pain-in-the-arse. My dogs love me when I win, when I lose, when I cry, when I fail, when I fall. They offer me a constant I’ve not always had in my life. You won’t be surprised to hear I lost my aunt a few years ago. I lived with her growing up. She was my second mother. She was more than that to be honest. Anyway, she used to say to me: ‘It doesn’t matter what has happened. It doesn’t matter how you feel. Get up, get up every day, wash your face with a clean hot flannel, make a pot of tea, then take your dogs for a walk.’ I do that, every day, regardless of how bad I feel and I always end up feeling better.
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?
Helen Paris who was on the Faber course with me and has her book Lost Property coming out in April. Everything about her is exceptional and her book is so good I can’t talk about it without feeling emotional.
I’m also loving some of the translated literature coming out. Look out for Mad Women’s Ball by Victoria Mas, and Lonely Castle In the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura!
Anything you’d like to add?
To anyone writing, don’t give up. To readers, give something new a go.
Thanks for taking the time Ericka, it’s been ace to hear about you and your writing (and your dogs)!