31 January 2019

Eleni Kyriacou: ‘If our lives aren’t reflected in culture, then we’re invisible’

Eleni Kyriacou and Cicely AspinallFrom left: Cicely Aspinall (editor at Hodder & Stoughton) and Eleni Kyriacou
by Katie Smart Author Interviews

Eleni Kyriacou is our fifty-fifth former student to get a commercial publishing deal. Eleni’s historical novel, Five Days in December, was acquired by Hachette following their first ever open submissions scheme: The Future Bookshelf. Eleni’s debut tells the story of Dina, a Greek Cypriot immigrant newly arrived in London in the 1950s, who is enticed into new dangers while trying to better her life – and is the novel she worked on during her time on our 3-month London-based novel-writing course in Autumn 2015, taught by Erin Kelly. 

Read on to find out about Eleni’s journey from her creative-writing course to publishing success story …

How did it feel when your historical novel was acquired by Hachette following your successful application to The Future Bookshelf initiative?
I received an email from Nick Davies, Chair of the Future Bookshelf, telling me that Editor Cicely Aspinall at Hodder had read my book and loved it. I sat staring at my phone for a while. I read it a few times, carefully checking the punctuation in case I’d misinterpreted it. Then of course I was thrilled. I’d been editing a scene near the end of my book just that week, wondering if anyone would ever read it. Nick suggested I might want to try and get an agent, and I contacted The Good Literary Agency, who I’d just submitted to. They called in the whole manuscript and that’s when Niki Chang offered to represent me.

The Future Bookshelf was set up to discover under-represented (and unpublished) new voices and stories in the hopes of making publishing more accessible to all. What drew you to apply for this exciting and necessary new scheme?
I’d discovered The Future Bookshelf through Twitter and often looked at the tips and information on the website. When I saw they had an open submission focused on underrepresented writers it felt like a perfect fit. My parents came to London from Cyprus in the 1950s and the characters in my novel do the same.

Your debut novel, Five Days in December (working title), is set in 1952 and follows the life of a Greek Cypriot immigrant. The book is inspired in part by your parents’ real-life experiences. This is an important and interesting subject matter, what compelled you to write about the experience of immigrants?
All immigrant experiences vary but in popular culture we’re often lumped together. Cypriot immigration is a neglected area in fiction and whatever I write seems to turn back to it – if not literally, then in theme, with stories of outsiders, that hint at not belonging, tales about being lost, not fitting in.

I’m a Londoner who feels neither totally English nor Cypriot, and I felt there were no stories that reflected my experience; if our lives aren’t reflected in culture, then we’re invisible.

This is the novel you were working on during your time studying on our 3-month London-based course back in 2015. How has it changed since you first applied to study with us?
The heart of the book is the same, but much of it has changed – especially the characters’ motivations. My tutor on CBC was the amazing Erin Kelly and I’d specifically chosen that course because she was teaching it. I’d been a fan of her books for years and knew that she’d understand the kind of book I was trying to write. I used our tutorials to address specific problems I couldn’t get a handle on and she helped me untangle them by asking the right questions and getting me to think differently. She believed in the story and my writing, and seemed confident that I had the makings of a good novel.

Many of the students form lifelong friendships and writing support groups whilst studying on our courses. Are you still in touch with any of your course mates?
We still have a WhatsApp group and meet every month for dinner, but sadly I don’t manage to make it often. That said, it’s great to stay in touch and hear about various submissions and successes. Along with two good friends, I was already part of a small writing group before the CBC course and we often read and critique each other’s work. I don’t think I would have got this far had it not been for that. Any support is invaluable, because it can be a long, slow road.

What’s one piece of advice that you’d like to pass on to new authors?
I would say finish it. Talking to your friends about it isn’t the same! Once it’s done you can decide if you want to redraft it, abandon it, start again from a different point of view, whatever – but without having something to work on you’re nowhere. Get to the end of your first draft  – accept it will be dreadful but you don’t have to show it to anyone if you don’t want to – then go back and start again.

Finally, what’s next for you – any ideas for your next writing project?
It’s a very dark story that’s based on true life, again set in the 50s. I can’t say anymore except it’s frightening me to death.

Eleni’s debut novel will be published by Hodder & Stoughton in March 2020. She can be found on twitter @elenikyr when she should be writing.

Our next Three-Month Novel-Writing Course in London with Charlotte Mendelson is currently open for applications, you can study in our central London offices with a group of 14 other dedicated writers. Or, for a flexible online course which you can take anywhere in the world, check out our Three-Month Online Novel-Writing Course with Suzannah Dunn.

If you’re writing YA or children’s fiction why not take a look at our selective entry online course for Writing YA and Children’s Fiction with Catherine Johnson.

We also run six-week online courses designed to help writers at different stages of their novel-writing journey, enrol today: Starting to Write Your NovelWrite to the End of Your Novel and Edit & Pitch Your Novel.

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