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18 December 2023

Author Q&A: Ella West

Ella West, author of six YA novels (including the NZ Book Award shortlisted Thieves), chats writing for young adults, learning to self-publish, and never giving up.

What was the inspiration for The Sound of My Heart?

My then 17-year-old son was taking his teenage frustrations out on running half marathons so we were involved in the running world a lot – travelling to races in the South Island every few months. I run early mornings (but only when the weather is nice!) and once came across an elderly man throwing a rope up into a tree. I stopped, and asked if he was okay and he said it was walnut tree and he was trying to shake the walnuts out of the tree. I left him to it, but I always wondered. When I ran past the tree the next morning I did check and it was a walnut tree. But what if he had been lying? What if I had helped him throw the rope up into the tree? It’s easy to start writing when you have “what if” questions.

The book is only out on Amazon as an ebook – why?

Confession time! I haven’t had a book published since Rain Fall in 2018. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. I usually finish a book a year so you can do the maths. I understand the market is tough, publishers are downsizing, YA has lost its celebrity status but in the meantime my books are just quietly snoozing on my computer and only I can read them. So yes, The Sound of My Heart is self-published. I’ve learnt so much doing it – am still learning!

But ebook only? No paperback or hardback?

It’s the 21st Century! Kids have got laptops or some sort of device at school they can access the internet with, and The Sound of My Heart as an ebook is the price of a fancy pen (for kids) or a cup of coffee (for teachers). I’m hoping it will be taught in schools as there are no expensive class sets for schools to buy and look after. There are teacher notes on my web site too – And it’s good for the world, and the trees! No cartage, no shipping!

What message would you most like people to take from The Sound of My Heart?

I’ve already made one kid cry when it was read aloud in a year seven/eight class. I don’t know. Maybe don’t give up? Never give up? But life happens, and keeps happening, until for some people it stops, and then you somehow have to find your own way to carry on? Maybe just go buy a pair of running shoes and get into it?

Tell us about that beautiful cover.

I’m so lucky to have the talented Martha Butler as my daughter-in-law. She graduated from Otago Polytechnic in art. My son, who is a tech wizard, and I were playing around with some images we had found – the cherry blossom and the runner, plus the text, and we had come up with something we thought was okay. Martha came home from work and said nah, she was doing it! I’m so glad she did!

So, what’s next?

My first books, the Thieves Series – Thieves, Anywhere But Here and Real Life have been out of print for ages so hopefully they will be up on Amazon next, with new covers done by Martha of course. Sorry Longacre, but you knew I always hated those covers. And there’s a fourth book Finder Seeker, because everyone did not like how Real Life ended. And maybe a fifth book – but give me some time! And then there are all the other books that I have written which have been rejected by every publisher in Australasia. (It’s okay – I’ve got over it! See the ‘don’t give up bit’ above!) So it’s really exciting. And just because they are ebooks and self-published, that doesn’t mean a publisher still can’t pick them up. They just have to ask! Although Amazon pays royalties monthly and publishers only pay every six months. Hmm.

The Sound of My Heart, written by Ella West, is available through the Amazon Store. It’s free on Kindle Unlimited and $5.28 on Kindle Store (subject to currency fluctuations).