Meet the Futures finalists: Eliza Clark

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Together with the Women’s Prize for Fiction, we launched Futures to showcase the talent of the next generation of female writers and help them lead the long and illustrious careers we believe 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 the Young Writers’ Talent Fund of New Writing North and used it to write her first novel. Boy Parts. Since then, she’s been prolific, with a short story collection this year and another novel slated for 2023. With her partner, she hosts the You Just Don’t Get It, Do You? Podcast, in which they discuss cinema and television.

What was the inspiration behind your novel, Boy Parts?

Boy Parts draws inspiration from a fairly wide range of subjects: photography theory, films and aspects of my own life are the focal points from which I am inspired. I did an art degree and found out that I was more interested in writing around art than in art itself. I’ve always loved movies a lot – we had a DVD player when I was about six years old, and I used to have a new DVD every two weeks to please myself. My mom loved horror movies, so I became a huge horror fan. When I was a teenager, I started looking for films beyond what my parents had seen before – world cinema, etc. The horror boom in Japan introduced me to “extreme cinema” – which really fascinated me.

I became very interested in treating extreme violence as another form of storytelling – after all, real life is extremely violent. Why, as a culture, do we ascribe so much power to fictitious representations of things that happen to real people every day. It crossed my interest in photography theory quite comfortably. Real and fictional depictions of sexual and violent images became something I spent a lot of time reading, writing, and thinking about, especially in the last year of my degree.

I have also been very 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 remember feeling generally humiliated, frustrated and dissatisfied.

Tell us about your journey to publication.

So in 2017 I was working in an Apple Store in Newcastle, had recently graduated from college and was struggling to find a job other than retail or hospitality. I was in desperate need of a job that was not in direct contact with the client, 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 funding from their Young Writer’s Talent Fund. In early 2018, they trained me as a creative writing facilitator for young people. I was also able to work with an individual mentor (Six Stories author Matt Wesolowski) who read my work week to week and gave me feedback. It was creatively fulfilling and helped me develop a lot as a writer – while also being a huge boost in my confidence.

I had written a very shortened version of Boy Parts like a short story, and I felt there was more than I wanted to do with it. I started making a novel out of it – and Matt continued to help me out, even after the NWN funding ended (which I’m still extremely grateful for!)

Around this time, I also got a job for Mslexia (the creative writing magazine) as a marketing assistant. It really helped me familiarize myself with the professional side of the industry. I have completed the first draft of Boy Parts at the end of 2018, and I managed to attend a David Higham and Associates open house for underrepresented writers – where I received excellent feedback and advice from literary agents.

In 2019, I started submitting my manuscript in earnest to agents – but I didn’t get very far with that. I was starting to feel a bit demoralized this summer, and like it was time to focus more on my “real career” – I had started looking for a full time job in corporate marketing in London.

At that time, I was hosting a pitch event on the Mslexia forums, which were paid for for subscribers. I would organize and run events where magazine subscribers could seek advice and comment from writers – and a few of those “pitch-a-thon” events with literary agents or small presses. I had organized our first independent press pitching event and Influx Press was one of the pitching presses.

I had decided to be very professional about this and not to present my own manuscript. Unfortunately, the pitches they received were all quite out of place for the editors present. Influx posted to the thread to describe precisely what they were looking for – and it really sounded like what they were looking for … Boy Parts. So, I logged into a sockpuppet account and started my own book.

boy parties by eliza clark

Faber

Influx asked me for my book and after an awkward and sorry email exchange I sent the first 3 chapters of my manuscript. Influx came back very quickly for a full manuscript request and I signed up with them about three weeks after the event was held. I also ended up getting this corporate marketing job in London around the same time – and we moved to London a few weeks later!

I ended up returning to another part-time artistic job in early 2020. The pandemic struck, Boy Parts came out and here we are! I have now signed with Faber and Faber for my next two books, and Boy Parts was optioned for television. It’s been two really crazy years!

What motivates you as an author?

I am not sure. I always used to be singled out by teachers whenever we did creative writing things in school, even since I was five or six. They gave me spare notebooks to write on, 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 that I wanted to be a writer. I guess that’s just innate enough for me. I’ve always told stories and I’m not good at anything else.

What’s your favorite book written by a woman?

Boring answer but probably Tthe secret story. Donna Tartt’s writing is like stepping into a hot tub. 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 story is an exception to this.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

When I was about 13 I posted my first fanfiction piece online and for some reason thought a quality marker was the time I managed to make a single paragraph (more 1000 words if I remember correctly). Someone commented to say that they enjoyed my story, but I should divide my paragraphs further as the text bricks are difficult to read. I never looked back! It is truly rare that you receive such objective and universally applicable advice!

What do you think you would be if you weren’t a writer?

I still have a day job! So, I guess I would work full time in communications for an arts charity rather than part time in communications for an arts charity.

Which author do you find most inspiring and why?

I absolutely loved watching Torrey Peters’ career over the past year. She has faced an extraordinary amount of negativity (especially in the UK) for being successful as a trans, and has faced it with grace and dignity. Her early work is so transgressive, and I love that she kept a punk sensibility while causing a stir among the general public – I can’t wait to read the revised editions of her short stories. Besides, she’s just really cool! She rides a pink motorbike and has a jaunt into the woods where – in the last update – she and her wife had built an outdoor kitchen from scratch. Very cool.

Do you have any writing routines or tips?

Not really. I’m a pretty disorganized person and any semblance of routine I had has been totally turned upside down by the pandemic. I used to write in cafes on my day off when I lived in Newcastle, but we hadn’t lived in London for a long time when Covid hit, and I haven’t had a chance yet to find a place that I really love. I work Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays – so I try to write for an hour before work (often unsuccessfully) and as long as possible on Mondays and Fridays (life / writing administration and meetings allow).

What’s your favorite book for the Women’s Prize?

May we be forgiven by AM Homes. I’m a big fan of her – Alice’s end was very influential when I started writing Boy Parts. Homes’ work has truly demonstrated that there is a place for women doing transgressive work in the literary world. I think she is one of our greatest living writers!

What do you hope to have accomplished as a writer in ten years?

Because I got so much help from New Writing North, I really wish I could pay up front; I would like to mentor myself and be able to create a fundraiser to fund individual mentoring of young writers from marginalized backgrounds. Being able to do all of this as young as I have made a huge difference in my quality of life. I wish I could help more young people who were as aimless as I find their feet in the industry early on, through training and mentoring.

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