Meet writer Mary at NessBookFest
by Margaret Chrystall
WHEN the character of a young girl called Clementine unexpectedly “popped up” in writer Mary Paulson-Ellis’s mind, it changed her plans for her debut novel The Other Mrs Walker.
Edinburgh writer Mary will be talking about the book which went on to be a Waterstones Scottish Book of the Month when she is the first guest at this year’s NessBookFest on Thursday, October 5.
Mary said: “I sat down to write about one character, but this other one who turned out to be Clementine popped up. She appears near the start of the book sitting on the stairs at the front of this house in London waiting for her dad while upstairs her mother is giving birth to twins.
“She just appeared in my head sitting there and I went – ‘Who are you?’.”
Now Clementine has an important role to play in Mary’s book which starts when Margaret Penny’s new job back in her home city of Edinburgh – after a failed life in London – means finding out anything she can about a mysterious old woman who has died alone in a freezing flat there.
Mary said: “I think of it as part detective story, part family drama.
“It shares some traits of a crime novel – it has a body and an investigation and a mystery.
“And it’s not solely a family drama, but what goes on in the family is crucial to solving the mystery.”
The first idea for Mary’s book came from a TV programme she saw years before even thinking of writing The Other Mrs Walker.
“About 15 years ago I had seen a documentary about council workers who went into the homes of people who died without appearing to have any next of kin.
“I could see straight away that they had a detective-style job.
“A few years ago I wrote a piece about an old lady who had died in her flat.”
Mary had written a novel that failed to get published. So she started to think about the next one.
“I remembered the documentary and my piece of writing about the old lady,” she said. “I wondered what it would be like to investigate her life.
“It’s paperwork they looking for – certificates, letters, passports, address books, anything like that that’s going to give them a flavour of who the person was and help locate any next of kin.
“I thought ‘Isn’t it funny that everyone has rich, complex, fascinating lives, but at the end of the day we all turn into little bits of paper?’.
“I took this idea of officialdom going in search of pieces of paper, while at the same time I wanted to give an insight into who the person really was.”
The writer is enthusiastic about book festivals and loved them as a reader before becoming a writer.
“I can’t tell you what a thrill it is to be on the other side of the tent, as it were.
“I do like discussing the book – and I’ve never had a question that I couldn’t answer. There’s a challenge for your readers!
“As far as I’m aware the book has done very well in Inverness, so I’m intrigued to find out what has attracted people there to it – maybe some will come along on Thursday and tell me!”
Mary’s NessBookFest event is at 6.30pm today (Thursday, October 5) at Waterstones. Details: www.nessbookfest.wordpress.com