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June 28, 2016 / peoplesbookprize

ellie stoneley

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In the lead up to The People’s Book Prize 2016 we caught up with author Ellie Stoneley to talk about her novel

Milky Moments

Before turning to writing, Ellie worked in marketing research for several charities within local communities – saying she was ‘very corporate and very busy while not achieving very much of value.’ Having a daughter opened a phenomenal new world to Ellie and gave her massive respect for women, stay at home mothers and working mothers. Her debut, Milky Moments is intertwined with becoming a mother for the first time. Ellie recently had the honour of her prints and illustrations hung in the antenatal clinics of Ipswich hospital. “The idea of Milky Moments,” says Ellie, ‘Is to reach women at the point in their lives where I first started thinking about the concept. if they help even one person, then it puts anything corporate I’ve done in the shade.”

When did you start writing?

 

I began writing in earnest when I was pregnant, I was 47 and had never really expected IVF treatment to work. I was scared I’d miscarry and writing became my outlet. It was easier than talking to friends and family at the time; then someone told someone else about my blog, and it went viral. I was invited to write for the local paper and Huffington Post and by the time my daughter was born (early 2012), there was a collective cheer across social media that she was healthy, and we were both thriving! I always wrote stories as a child, composed letters to my father who lived abroad and kept diaries on and off and I studied English literature as part of my degree (Durham University), so I guess the written word has always been an important part of my life.

As an Author, What Influences You the Most?

I’ve always loved books and like so many other people felt I had a book in me!! A cliche for sure but storytelling is something I believe is so important. My inspiration for writing came from all the wonderful children’s books I read when I was growing up, hiding under covers with a torch and subsequently reading under the table top during dull meetings. Regarding Milky Moments, my first book, my inspiration was my daughter and also the fact that this book didn’t exist and was so needed.

Where did the idea for this book originate?

Not long after my daughter was born I found most books depicted infants being fed using bottles, which was at odds with the message that hospitals and medical staff give out that breastfeeding is best for mother and child. My daughter was premature, was formula and breastfed via a nose tube and had a tongue tie so we struggled enormously with breastfeeding and only succeeded after the tie was cut and we’d had help from local volunteers trained to help mothers like me. As a consequence of all that I looked around for books depicting nursing, I couldn’t find anything at all to start with, but a trawl of the internet showed a few children’s books with lovely images of nursing mothers and children but mainly with messages around weaning or preparing for an older sibling. Katie Morag’s books have a few breastfeeding illustrations throughout the books but there was nothing that just said, in a simple, non-judgemental way, that this is normal, this is daily life, this is ‘your’ life (to young children). Initially, I figured that I was odd, and there was no need for a book like this or it would have already been written. Again from talking to other new mothers or mothers with older children both in person and online in breastfeeding forums (many with literally tens of thousands of members) I realised more and more that people were crying out for the book I was thinking about.

I came up with a rough plan and approached and artist friend, she felt the idea wasn’t right for her and so I asked another friend, someone who at that point was mainly painting chickens and elephants but had a warm and wonderful style about her, Jessica D’Alton Goode, and she came and sketched pictures of my daughter and I nursing. These evolved into paintings and the look and feel of the book started to emerge. I didn’t want it to be dry or educational, but fun and compelling for children and their families so the illustrations were crucial and the attention to detail. A rattle will appear on several pages, it has to be the same, Eric the Bear became a bit of a Where’s Wally kind of chap and is on every spread in the book. The little icons on the front cover appear throughout the book and the family tree allows children to identify and find each character. Every time someone picks up the book it has another dimension, quite aside from the illustrations reflecting the words, and I wanted it to be personal, and to, in a way, tell our story … one of the six families featured has a premature baby, another is a single mother, another is nursing an older child (something that happens much more, so I’ve found from online forums and simply having a child of my own, than much of the tabloid press would have us believe … and the World Health Organisation recommend). Breastfeeding in public was an important theme in the book, at the park, in a cafe, on the bus, at the shops, something I felt needs to be represented if children are to grow up seeing breastfeeding as something normal.

The nominees for The People’s Book Prize are voted for by the readers, how important are your readers to you?

Without the readers any author is just someone who writes. I wrote Milky Moments with mothers and families and children in mind, but I never imagined how moving it would be and how humbling to get an email or letter from someone saying how my book had touched them or become an integral part of their bedtime routine. I must have wept on an hourly basis in the weeks following its publication at the generous and remarkable response Milky Moments was given. Fathers saying it should be on every child’s bookcase, mothers saying they were moved to tears by the idea that someone had articulated how they felt, and children sending their pictures of Eric the Bear or having birthday parties themed around the book. It was quite mind blowing, and I feel such a sense of gratitude to every single person who has bought the book, let alone reviewed or commented on it. I still really can’t believe the whole thing or the impact it’s made.

I was flabbergasted and delighted for Milky Moments to be voted through into the final of the People’s Book Prize, it means a huge amount more than other accolades because it is voted for by readers, and if you read the comments people have left on the book page of the People’s Book Prize website, it has clearly been voted for by readers who really (and wonderfully) value it and enjoy it with their families, something I hardly dared hope and never really imagined would happen.

Pinter and Martin publish a variety of brilliant authors, what is it like to be in the company of talented writers?

Pinter and Martin are a remarkable publisher. They’re small and willing to take risks with new and different types of book. Their ‘motto’ is ‘Freedom to Think’ and I love that, it’s also the way they work. I’m sure other larger publishers wouldn’t allow an author such freedom with the design and feel of a book or be as collaborative. The idea of being on a platform with brilliant and influential writers from Sheila Kitzinger to Mayim Bialik, Dr Jack Newman to Frank Zappa is a bit bonkers and incredibly exciting. I’ve also loved and welcomed the support from other authors they’ve published in the last year like Laura Dodsworth (Bare Reality) and Mark Harris (Men, Love and Birth). It makes me so determined to repay the publisher’s faith in me by doing all I can to make Milky Moments the biggest success it can be!

What book influenced you most as a writer and what are you reading at the moment?

I’m the kind of person who falls in love time and time again with new books, new countries, new places and new experiences so in many ways I’ve loved most of the books I’ve finished reading. In terms of influence, my childhood favourite was the Secret Garden as it seemed to reflect isolation, excitement and awe in a way I strongly identified with. In later life I’ve really been inspired by William Dalrymple and the way he brings humour and insight to his stories of often harrowing times, sitting on a beach in Kerela reading his City of Djins I had a definite sense of wanting to, and being determined to write a book myself. The other thank that has been hugely influential in my life is music and in particular the poetry and lyrics of Bruce Springsteen which time and time again have given me confidence.

What am I reading now? Last night it was my daughter’s favourite book, Jack and the Flum Flum Tree by Julia Donaldson and beside it on my bedside table but gathering dust waiting for me to have a spare second to myself is Flaubert’s Madame Bovary which I adore.

What can we expect from you in the future? What are you writing at the moment?

I’m talking to a network of children’s shops in the USA about promotion of Milky Moments in the States, I’m also plotting a way of ‘productising’ the book, and in particular Eric the Bear. A friend knitted me some limited edition collectable ‘Erics’ and people have bought and loved them, but I would love to see the bears sold alongside the books, and who knows, perhaps Milky Moments baby wear or nursing clothes!! I’m working on another two children’s ‘Moments’ books, I’d like for there to be a series of 3, these are also around ‘gentle’ parenting and the joy and challenges of childhood. I also want to continue to advocate for women, for mothers generally and specifically for breastfeeding mothers and the normality of breastfeeding and use the voice the book has (unexpectedly) given me to help and support where I can.

 

Find Ellie at: crazypregnantperson.com / milkymomentsbooks.com

Facebook: milkymomentsbook

Twitter: @e11ie5

Find More Finalists at peoplesbookprize.com/finalist


home pageThe People’s Book Prize is the unique literary competition that is judged by the nation and open to all UK publishing companies.

You Be the Judge: The People’s Book Prize – “The home for new and undiscovered works.”

 

 

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