By Leslie Lindsay
Surprisingly heartwarming and delightful read about a harpmaker and lonely, somewhat dissatisfied woman dreaming of rewriting her own life, full of big dreams and an even bigger heart.
I absolutely loved ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER (Berkley, August 6). It’s beautifully, delightfully written, and so full of irresistible, fully formed characters–I fell in love with Ellie and Dan. I’ll admit to being a little skeptical of this book at first–a harpmaker, really?! A love story? I don’t really ‘do’ romance…but trust me, READ THIS BOOK!
This heart-warming, funny and quirky love story features . . .
27 birch trees
a 17-step staircase
a pair of cherry-coloured socks
and a pheasant named Phineas
These characters simply jump right off the page. I was enamored with both Ellie and Dan almost immediately. Dan is a happy, simple guy living his barn in the countryside of Exmoor (England). This is where he can be himself–surrounded by his orchard and moors, a sparkling creek, and strange little pet pheasant. He doesn’t always ‘get’ social situations, but he has a heart of gold and a skill unlike anyone else–making harps.
Ellie is a lonely housewife. Her days are filled with walks and writing poetry, planning gourmet meals for her husband, Clive, and feeling a bit unsatisfied. She has a list of things she wants to do before she turns 40–and learning to play the harp is on it.
And then Ellie meets Dan.
Narrated in alternating chapters, told from Ellie and Dan’s charming and quirky points of view, I was simply enchanted the entire time. Reading ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER is a bit like falling into the folds of a glimmering fairy tale, but not–it’s very real and yet there’s an exquisite simplicity about the prose. It’s buoyant and lyrical, soothing, even. I found hope in the gift of music, in the bucolic countryside, and also a refreshing sense of doing what’s right.
You might think ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER is predictable, and yes, some parts are; but unique twists, colorful characters, and even some darker aspects come to light. I found myself talking and thinking about Dan and Ellie as if they were real people, worried and concerned for them when I was not reading. That’s what I find particularly rewarding–that and how the themes and images leave a powerful residue of emotion. This is a story that will stay with me a long time.
Please join me in welcoming the delightful Hazel Prior to the author interview series.
Hazel, I loved this story. I loved Ellie and Dan and the setting and everything! First, I have to ask—why this book, why now? What was your inspiration?
Hello Leslie. I am so happy you loved the book!
As you know, this is my debut novel so I didn’t actually feel very in control over what I wrote. It just sort of tumbled out of me! I couldn’t help writing about my favourite things: music (specifically harps), the countryside (specifically Exmoor) and characters who are a bit quirky, who don’t quite fit into the normal dictates of society. I like such people and feel they shouldn’t have to justify the way they are.
It was my harp-playing that gave the first impetus for this story. I was inspired by audience members who came up to me after performances to tell me they’d always dreamed of playing the harp. So many! It made me realise how I’d managed to make this dream come true for myself, but only after years of struggle and self-doubt. Chasing a dream is never simple. That single thought became the basis for my plot.
When I was pregnant (with my now-12 year old daughter), my husband brought home a CD of harp music. He told me, “The woman who sold this to me said harp music is very soothing and good for the soul.” I listened to it throughout my pregnancy. Kelly was born into the world with the harp music in the background. The nurses commented on how calm she was. I’d like to think the music had a little something to do with it. I loved this aspect of ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER. What more can you tell us about your connection to the harp?
This is lovely to hear and I’m sure you’re right. Both you and Kelly must have been calmed and uplifted by the music, and that’s health-giving in every way. I strongly believe that music is essential for our wellbeing. I often see how moods are lifted when I play the harp in Care Homes and I know that music can melt away stress (and nothing is more harmful to our bodies than stress). Doctors really should be prescribing harp music!
Actually playing the harp is a mixed experience for me. It’s an immense privilege to bring people this special kind of magic, but I’m often very nervous and self-critical when performing. I play music by heart so I have to remember a lot of notes, which is an added pressure. But I completely love playing the harp, love those incredible moments when the music just slides out of my fingers. I’m looking forward to the day when this happens all the time without any worry at all. As with the writing, I’ll never stop learning.
Ellie and Dan live in Exmoor, England. What can you tell us about this location—because I love it—is it as fairy-tale like as it seems in the story? Do you write about places you’re familiar with? Does the harp barn exist?
I live on Exmoor and my local walks have really fed into the setting. There is plenty that really is fairy-tale like about this landscape. We have moorland, rivers, woods and the sea and they change colour with each season. Sometimes, when the light is right, I catch sight of a scene and can’t believe how beautiful it is. Alas, there isn’t a harp barn, though!
A quote (I think it’s from the Talmud) states that we see the world not as it is but as we are. Because I wrote the story from the viewpoints of Dan and Ellie, you get to see Exmoor very much through their (slightly dreamy) eyes. If I’d written it from, say, Clive’s viewpoint, there wouldn’t be much nature because he’s not a person who registers the beauty of his surroundings much; there’d be far more about the inside of his office!
There are a few darker truths to ELLIE AND HARPMAKER, too. It’s not all harps and countryside, and good times. All stories must have a bit of conflict and so you’ve given us that. Without giving too much away, I am curious if you carefully plot your stories, or allow them to grow organically?
I’m not a very good plotter, although I do try. I had a rough idea about where the story was going but it got pulled into different directions as I went along. Darker elements were always simmering under the surface and there are serious questions about the way we treat each other. As I got to know the main characters, I felt they needed a crisis to jolt them into certain realisations. This particularly applies to Ellie, who is so determined to see the best in people she can’t see what’s under her own nose. Dan, too, suddenly becomes much more aware of his priorities once danger strikes.
“A wonderful, genuine, heart-warming, funny and beautifully written book. If you love Kate Atkinson, Jojo Moyes or Gail Honeyman you will fall in love with Ellie and The Harp Maker.”
~Rebecca Tinnelly, author of Never Go There and Don’t say a Word.
You’re a first-time novelist, and so I have to ask what you think you did ‘right’ and what you wished you had known more?
I’m really glad I went with what I wanted to write rather than trying to please any market. I’m glad I let myself be a bit whimsical. I’m glad I was faithful to the voice of Dan exactly the way it came to me. These things were a gamble but people seem to like the end result and I couldn’t be happier about that.
I wish I’d known more about the publication process, however. The whole journey has been unbelievably backwards and forwards, up and down. Just finding an agent was a minefield. Then, when I finally did get that longed-for contract, there was a mind-boggling amount of editing to do. Not to mention a year and a half of waiting after I’d finished while my book churned through the publishing machine. But it was worth it!
Hazel, this has been so delightful. I could ask questions all day, but before we go, is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?
I’d just like to tell you that Phineas the pheasant is based on a real character. He wanders about our garden pecking at the flowers and squawks loudly when taken by surprise. But does he like harp music? I can’t be sure…
Thank you so much for having me on your website. It’s an honour and a pleasure.
For more information, to connect with Hazel Prior via social media, or to purchase a copy of ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER, please visit:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Hazel Prior is a harpist based in Exmoor, England. Originally from Oxford, she fell in love with the harp as a student and now performs regularly. She’s had short stories published in literary magazines, and has won numerous writing competitions in the UK. Ellie and The Harpmaker is her first novel and she is working on her second.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1
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[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley and used with permission. Exmoor countryside photo cred: Joana Kruse. Retrieved from http://www.fineartamerica.com on 8.13.19. Artistic photo of book designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this.]