Please welcome Ellen Herrick to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Sparrow Sisters was published by William Morrow on September 1, 2015.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Ellen: Now, this might make you go “Whaaaaaat.” I used to work for a big publisher in New York. I read all the time, I read great stuff and not so great stuff and I did publicity for all the books. When you read and write for a living it is hard to think about telling a story. So, when I moved to London with my family I…OK, truth: I did dookey until the year before we came back to the States. My youngest basically dared me to write a novel. I had NEVER considered such a thing but as soon as my daughter set off on a ten day holiday with her brothers and my husband (leaving me alone to eat ice cream out of the carton, sing into my hairbrush and read), I sat at my kitchen counter and began The Sparrow Sisters, or something very like it. As President of the REALLY Late Bloomers’ Club let me say, Shwew, I did it.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Ellen: Total pantser! I literally start every new writing day with “Once upon a time…” and hope for the best. I do lie around at night or while I driving start to play out where the story might go but my teeth start to itch if I try to outline.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Ellen: Finding a clean, well-lighted place, as Virginia Woolf said. And, acknowledging that what I do has value so I deserve the time and space to do it. I know, it’s a lot about confidence, I’m working on it.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?
Ellen: In no particular order, and all influences: Laurie Colwin, John Irving, Alice Hoffman, Sarah Addison Allen, Marisa de los Santos, Richard Russo, Anne Tyler, Stephen King….wait, wait I’m not done!
TQ: Describe The Sparrow Sisters in 140 characters or less.
Ellen: Three beloved sisters in a seaside village find themselves at the center of a modern-day witch-hunt. Please don’t make me count that…and can I include ‘oh, crap’?
TQ: Tell us something about The Sparrow Sisters that is not found in the book description.
Ellen: Sorrel has wanderlust and is the only one of the three who would really like to leave, at least for a time.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Sparrow Sisters?
Ellen: First, I was living in London (I lived there for nearly twenty years) and, frankly, was homesick for New England vs Olde England! Next, I am lucky enough to have a house on Cape Cod so all around me are plants and flowers, and salt and sea and those elements are a major part of The Sparrow Sisters. Then, there really are some Sparrow Sisters living in my town (they are VERY different from my girls)! Finally, I wanted to read a book about some mysterious sisters in a slightly magical town by the ocean and since Alice Hoffman was busy, I wrote it!
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Sparrow Sisters?
Ellen: I am a keen gardener myself but in terms of all the knowledge Patience Sparrow has about herbs and flowers, I spent many (usually rainy) afternoons in the Chelsea Physic Garden in London. chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk. It was founded in the mid-17th century and is one of the oldest botanic gardens in Europe. Walled and quiet, secreted away only a few streets away from my house, I did a lot of damp note-taking there!
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Ellen: Perhaps Matty’s father was the hardest. Rob Short is already so fragile and then events simply tip him into a million, angry pieces. Making him still worth knowing and saving was hard.
TQ: Which question about The Sparrow Sisters do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Ellen: Probably the hardest is “do you think herbs and plants are magical?” And yes, I do. Perhaps not quite as magical as Patience can make them but I know that when I am in my garden or when I eat the herbs and veggies I gown I am absolutely transported. I also count on some herbal remedies including Stinging Nettle, Mint and Kelp!
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from The Sparrow Sisters.
“They were both so frightened of losing the other that, through silence, they did.”
“Her eyes were glazed, and as Henry brushed her hair away from her face, she leaned into his hand like a cat.”
“Be quiet, you over-emotional oaf!”
TQ: What's next?
Ellen: You know, readers have asked my about Sorrel, will her story be told? I know that I want to tell more tales about the town of Granite Point and I know there are lots of other characters that have stories to tell. So, I have been thinking about Sorrel, but I have also been thinking about some villagers we haven’t met yet. And, I have been noodling about the connection between New and Old England. Sorrel certainly deserves her own adventure!
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Ellen: Thank you so much. Can I say Qwillery a lot?
The Sparrow Sisters
William Morrow Paperbacks, September 1, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages
With echoes of the alchemy of Practical Magic, the lushness of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, and the darkly joyful wickedness of the Witches of Eastwick, Ellen Herrick’s debut novel spins an enchanting love story about a place where magic whispers just beneath the surface and almost anything is possible, if you aren’t afraid to listen.
The Sparrow Sisters are as tightly woven into the seaside New England town of Granite Point as the wild sweet peas that climb the stone walls along the harbor. Sorrel, Nettie and Patience are as colorful as the beach plums on the dunes and as mysterious as the fog that rolls into town at dusk.
Patience is the town healer and when a new doctor settles into Granite Point he brings with him a mystery so compelling that Patience is drawn to love him, even as she struggles to mend him. But when Patience Sparrow’s herbs and tinctures are believed to be implicated in a local tragedy, Granite Point is consumed by a long-buried fear—and its three hundred year old history resurfaces as a modern day witch-hunt threatens. The plants and flowers, fruit trees and high hedges begin to wither and die, and the entire town begins to fail; fishermen return to the harbor empty-handed, and blight descends on the old elms that line the lanes.
It seems as if Patience and her town are lost until the women of Granite Point band together to save the Sparrow. As they gather, drawing strength from each other, will they be able to turn the tide and return life to Granite Point?
The Sparrow Sisters is a beautiful, haunting, and thoroughly mesmerizing novel that will capture your imagination.
Ellen Herrick was a publishing professional in New York City until she and her husband moved to London for a brief stint; they returned nearly twenty years later with three children (her own, it must be said). She now divides her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a small town on Cape Cod very much like Granite Point.