Elodie Harper, author of The Wolf Den trilogy, offers a glimpse into her writing life as the next novel in the series, The House with the Golden Door, is unlocked
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved reading and writing. In my time as a journalist, talking to so many people, I often found that it was the stories they told me about their lives – not relevant to the report I was doing – that were most interesting. Fiction allows you to think about a lot of things that journalism doesn’t: how we live our lives, emotions, characters and relationships.
My primary job is at ITV News Anglia, but I started writing books that reflected elements of it. The first two channelled aspects of my role in court reporting, set in East Anglia. Those almost got too close to the day job, thinking so much about the darker parts of life. I wanted to go somewhere completely different in my head, which is why I ended up drifting into the Roman world.
I’m much happier in the historical fiction genre – that’s where I’m making my home as a writer. Much of my job is about human nature, so that still feeds into my writing, but I love the escapism of the past.
With The Wolf Den, I worked out the characters and trajectory of the trilogy before writing anything. I did a lot of research, visiting Pompeii and reading books by ancient authors. One of the reasons that period resonated with me was because I’d already read a lot about it over many years. I continue to research as I write, but not in the same immersive way.
I’m a mum, so besides working for ITV, I’m also looking after my son. I cram the writing in whenever I can: when he’s at school, on my days off and after he’s gone to bed. I write anywhere I can get peace and quiet – usually at the kitchen table.
For the trilogy, I planned all three books in advance, to have a clear idea of where I was going. With work that involves so much research, it’s necessary to decide which parts to put in, and leave out. You have to give enough sense of the time and place to make the story vivid, without overwhelming it.
As a journalist, you just have to get on with it – it’s got to be on the news at six. Whether you’re feeling in the mood or not is irrelevant. I’ve carried that over into my fiction writing. There are days when you love every moment, then others when it’s a struggle – I think that’s true of all writers.
When I send off my novel, I’m never completely happy with it. My agent Juliet Mushens is instrumental. By the end, it is a collaborative process.
Writing the second novel, you’re in the same world and have less work to do to figure out who your characters are – but at the same time, the book is integrated into what you’ve already written. Sometimes I wish I’d done things differently before.
For all writers, there’s a pressure. If your book’s successful, you have to match or exceed that, but I’m incredibly grateful that The Wolf Den did well. There are series of books that I love reading – and sometimes the writer doesn’t do what you want them to with a character. I can’t say that ruins the process for me at all, as you can only write how you see it happening. I get contacted every week by women who’ve read The Wolf Den, saying how it’s affected them. I found that quite amazing and really touching. It’s one of the unexpected pleasures of writing.
The House with the Golden Door is out now, published by Head of Zeus