Stellar Quine of the Month: Mary Paulson Ellis

How would you describe your current job and what do you like best about it?

I am a writer. I’ve just published my debut novel, The Other Mrs Walker (Mantle/Pan Macmillan). I like writing best when I am deep in the heart of a story and the words are flowing like wine and I feel sort of intoxicated with all the possibilities. Then there’s the other 99% of the time…

I also do various other bits and bobs: script-editing, mentoring, occasionally teaching. All these suit the more gregarious side of my personality which likes to get out and in amongst things.

What was your first ever job?

My first ever, ever job was serving sliced bacon in British Home Stores while wearing a straw boater. I was 16. But my first proper job was as Admin Assistant at TAG Theatre Company in the mid-1990s, which I loved. We were based at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow in what the other staff jokingly called the broom cupboard. We did some great shows while I was there – Men Should Weep, Lanark, Peter Pan. I was passionate about theatre so it was the perfect job for me. I also got very good at schedules and writing minutes.

Has there been a particular person or an opportunity that you feel has made the most difference to your career?

There have been many over the years, but three that are connected:-

After TAG I got a job as Sponsorship Manager at the Edinburgh International Festival and while there I learned from my boss, Nicky Pritchett-Brown, how to deal with rejection. Fundraisers are rejected all the time; it becomes part of our DNA so I think this really helped when I was starting out as a writer i.e. never give up and don’t take it personally.

At the Festival I also met Sally Hobson, Head of Creative Learning who was kind enough to offer me various teaching opportunities after I gave up fundraising to start out as a writer. Going freelance is always a bit of a leap of faith and she helped to soften the landing.

And it was Sally who introduced me to the legend that is Muriel Romanes. I went on to work for Stellar Quines as General Manager for 3 ½ very rich and rewarding years. Muriel is an inspiration in the way she works with artists of all descriptions. Even after I gave up the job to write full-time, she still supported my creative ambitions in all sorts of ways.

Having worked within theatre, television and now literature, what do you like best about working within the arts?

The power of storytelling to excite, inspire and bring people together in passionate conversation. I’ve had so many brilliant and intense conversations with fellow artists, colleagues and audiences over the years about all sorts of books, plays, TV shows etc. It’s a really fulfilling part of my life, especially when wine is involved. I also love the way the arts can take us for a walk on the dark side – which is where, as a writer, I often like to be.

Who is your favourite writer or playwright and why?

That is a very difficult question to answer because there are so many and varied and they are all wonderful.

In terms of prose writers I love the work of Ali Smith, Janice Galloway and Kate Atkinson. And the empress of them all, Toni Morrison.

In terms of television in which I recently dipped a toe as a script-editor for the BBC, I am a massive fan of Sally Wainright. She really paid her dues working for years on soaps and continuing drama before she managed to secure her own series. Scott & Bailey and Happy Valley are stand out shows for me because of the way she puts women front and centre with all their quirks and complexities.

What advice would you give emerging female writers today?

Never give up. Don’t take it personally. And believe in your vision because if you don’t, no one else will.

Also, take your time to develop your work. After all, what’s the hurry? I didn’t publish my first novel until I was 47. It hasn’t done me any harm.

Who would your Stellar Quine of the month be and why?

I’d like to give a shout-out to all those back room girls toiling away in the broom cupboard. Where would we be without those spreadsheets, those minutes and those schedules.

But if I had to pick one out of the glorious many, I’d say Deborah Crewe the Finance and Development Manager for Grid Iron Theatre Company. Deb can make anything happen and with wit too. Also she was a ‘consultant’ for my recent book launch. She kept me in good order and positioned the chaise longue with aplomb. @mspaulsonellis

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