Author Interview Number Seventy-One – Ellen Allen YA/Thriller

The Sham_ cover

When love leads to death, be careful who you trust…

Eighteen-year-old Emily Heath would love to leave her dead-end town, known locally as “The Sham”, with her boyfriend, Jack, but he’s very, very sick; his body is failing and his brain is shutting down. He’s also in hiding, under suspicion of murder. Six months’ ago, strange signs were painted across town in a dialect no one has spoken for decades and one of Emily’s classmates washed up in the local floods. 

Emily has never trusted her instincts and now they’re pulling her towards Jack, who the police think is a sham himself, someone else entirely. As the town wakes to discover new signs plastered across its walls, Emily must decide who and what she trusts, and fast: local vigilantes are hunting Jack; the floods, the police, and her parents are blocking her path; and the town doesn’t need another dead body.


Welcome to Ellen Allen

Where are you from and where do you live now?

Three years’ ago I quit my job in London and moved with my small daughter to the south of France. The plan was to stay for a few months – to fulfil a lifelong dream of lollygagging in rosé wine vineyards, writing a book, getting the hang of French grammar, etc. – but we haven’t been able to leave!

We’ve built a new life here, complete with jobs, schools, and French subjunctive tenses – as well as the vineyards and writing – and the best part is that we’re only a few hours away by train from our family in London. It’s also sunny here, roughly 300 days a year…

Please tell us a little about your writing – for example genre, title, etc.

I didn’t intend to write YA thrillers but the genre found me. The idea for The Sham came to me in a nightmare. I dreamed that I was 17 again, back in school, with the same group of 4 friends, involved in a murder of one of them. It was so vivid that I couldn’t get back to sleep and the only way I could get it out of my head was to write it all down. I’m not sure it’s an easy genre to market; too old for younger YA readers, too YA for adult readers but it’s one I’m keen on pursuing. I’ve just started my second YA thriller. It seems to fit me.

Where do you find inspiration?

Anywhere and everywhere! I write down all the interesting and macabre things that I hear: stories about people’s lives; the way people love; the way they die; and random things in the news. At the moment I’m trying to work on my characters and how they act/react in different situations. I have a little note book that I carry in my bag and I’m busy writing down how people look when they eat, drink, talk… especially when they think no one is looking. I just hope that no one is watching me!

Are your characters based on real people?

It’s a well known saying that every book is autobiographical and of course that’s true; everything you write is a summation of things you’ve experienced and each one contains a little bit of you and your life. But you can’t be lazy and just transfer people from real life onto the page; besides anything else, they’d never forgive you!

Conversely, it’s also true that whilst “all fiction may be autobiography, all autobiography is of course fiction[1]” We bend the truth all the time and nowhere more so than in our writing. It’s all a composite; a jigsaw that we build in our heads.

Sort these into order of importance: Great characters; great world-building; solid plot; technically perfect. Can you explain why you chose this order? (Yes I know they all are important…)

Some authors are technically perfect but I can find some of their work a little, well, boring. As for world-building, I think it depends on the kind of book. I need more for some genres – science fiction, for example – than I do for a contemporary romance. In general, I’m not a huge fan of tons of backstory or great paragraphs on detail. I like to make that up for myself. Part of the joy of reading for me is to use my imagination.

If I have to generalise, then the two most important things to make a great book are a cracking plot (I want stuff to actually happen, unless this is sublime literary fiction and even then…) as well as brilliant characters that think and feel as people do in real life. I want to vicariously experience what other people are feeling (the good and bad) or one better, I want to actually be them.

What are your opinions about authors commenting on reviews? How important are reviews?

Everyone has an opinion on this one, don’t they? My book has only been out for six weeks and it’s my first one. As a newly self-published author, reviews are the only feedback that I’ll get on my writing and I’m really enjoying reading it (even if it is painful at times!). I think it’s the only way that authors like me will improve their work (identifying writing ticks, or plot holes, for instance).

That said, I don’t think it’s right for an author to comment on a review. Not at all. I think you just have to look from afar and remember to say “thank you”. From a reviewer’s perspective, a person has taken a lot of time and energy reading the book and writing a review and they’re entitled to their opinion. From my perspective, if one person has said something, it might or might not be true. When I read a hundred reviewers all saying the same thing, offering the same critique, then I’ll know it’s definitely true. It’s that feedback that I’ll be taking with me to the next book.

What three pieces of advice would you give to new writers?

I’m new to this so I don’t really feel qualified to offer advice to anyone. Instead, I’ll offer up the advice that I’m following religiously:


  • As Stephen King most famously says, “reading is writing”. You need to be reading widely and voraciously to write well. I have a small daughter and a non-writing job, so I find it hard to find the time to read as much as I should. The 2014 reading challenge on Goodreads has been great for helping me keep track of how many books I’m getting through and what’s next on my list.


  • Lionel Shriver – one of my favourite authors – was asked what the best advice was for new authors and she put it well: “Don’t turn it into a mystical process. Just get on with it!” You have to be disciplined, dogmatic, stubborn and organised to be a jobbing writer. I try not to think about the rest – the doubts about talent, whether anyone will read it – and I just get on with it. I want it to be my career, so I treat it as if it is.


  • There is tons of writing advice out there that isn’t very good – the irony in reading writing advice that isn’t well written! You can spend hours trawling through it, but it’s distracting and time wasting. Find a few blogs that you rate, a few sites that you trust, follow a few similar writers, watch how they progress and then – you guessed it – get on with it!

Most authors like to read, what have you recently finished reading? Did you enjoy it?

I’m at my happiest when I have three or four books on the go, so I can choose to read according to how I feel. I’ve just finished reading a few things but I haven’t absolutely loved any of them.

My favourite YA books of the year are The 5th Wave (which I came to really late but just in time for the sequel), We Were Liars, Ender’s Game and my favourite literary book that I read this year is The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

What are your views on authors offering free books?

My book isn’t free but I have given away review copies and run giveaways on blogs. I think it’s a great way of getting my book to people who have never heard of me at all. I’ve heard that free books are great for authors who have other works for sale, which they can offer as a lead in to their work. 

Can you name your worst job? Do you think you learned anything from the position that you now use in your writing?

I’ve had hundreds of terrible temporary jobs to pay my way through school and university, all of them very varied.  I’m really grateful for all these experiences now (not so much at the time!) because of all of the people I’ve met and surreal situations I’ve encountered. I use it all in my writing.

Real life can be kind of bizarre: I’ve stood in greenhouses in searing heat, sucking pansies out of bedding trays with hoovers for hours on end; I’ve huddled in freezer compartments in minus 30 degree temperatures packing Angel cakes into boxes; I spent four very long weeks sticking stamps continuously for the BBC; I’ve sold plastic pens door-to-door in what felt like all the suburbs in Sydney; and I’ve been a receptionist at a company where the phone never rang (I swear it was a front for some other kind of activity). Sometimes, it’s only the people you’re with in these situations that keep you sane. You spend weeks mining their brains, working them out.

My worst jobs have always been as a chambermaid. When I was 18, I worked one whole winter wiping other people’s sick off the floor every morning at a really cheap skiing hotel in the French Alps. People behave in hotels in a way they never would in their own homes; you always see the worst of them when you’re cleaning up their rooms.


Book links, website/blog and author links:

Amazon author page:


The Sham on goodreads:


Ellen Allen Twitter:


Ellen Allen Facebook:

Ellen Allen’s writing blog:


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