Dreamer | Yawn Meets Ella Risbridger
We’re very excited to be introducing your novel Midnight Chicken to our audience (and delighted to be offering them a special discount at the bottom of this interview).
You've written a hugely warm and involving book and the recipes are quite brilliant – as is the title. A fantastic achievement, huge congratulations.
So - please introduce Midnight Chicken to Yawn’s readers.
Midnight Chicken is- basically- a story about comfort food. I started writing it when I was suicidal and twenty-one, desperate for something that felt real and true and good; and it’s the book I wish I’d had then. It’s about how I learned that life could be worth living, which is to say, three meals a day plus snacks.
This is your debut novel. How does it feel to have it published and receiving such acclaim (we were delighted to read India Knight’s endorsement in the Sunday Times only last weekend)?
It’s obviously extraordinary. It feels mostly mad, can I say that? It feels mostly surreal. I am so grateful to all the people who have championed it, but the best thing for me is connecting with people on, like, a one-to-one level. I get a lot of messages, and while I am so so bad at replying to people (I currently have 29 unread texts, 520 unread emails and I don’t even know how many unanswered DMs, mostly from people I already love to death) getting to hear that my book has helped people is staggering. This book came from such a hard time in my life, and so it kind of gives meaning to that hard time if it helps other people through theirs. I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe you can make a meaning for most things. This book is me making something meaningful out of the worst things that have happened to me.
What have been your most challenging and exciting moments in getting this book published?
Writing books is always hard, but I wrote this one in stolen moments in hospital, where my partner was dying. So that was pretty rough. Publishing a book about my life with him- less than a year after he died- was pretty tricky too. Answering questions about the book, and about that life, in the midst of grief felt impossible at times. I have been so lucky to have such an amazing team at Bloomsbury- we moved the deadline a hundred times, ate so much cake in meetings, and my publicist was an absolute rottweiler, defending me every time it looked like I might cry.
Where does your inspiration come from?
My kitchen; my friends; my city, which is London. I don’t eat out a lot, even in non-Covid times, largely because it’s expensive- but I spend a lot of time googling things, and wandering round tiny supermarkets. Whenever I go on holiday I spend almost all my time in the supermarket. Which is annoying for whoever I am on holiday with, who would like to go to the beach/museum/cultural artefact.
Where and how does your best writing happen?
Right now, I am hardly writing at all, which is annoying. This is because my best writing always happens in busy cafes, where I’m on about my third coffee (decaf oat latte, if you’re buying) and second little cake treat (Gail’s pecan cinnamon crumb thing, thanks). I like busy-ness, I like people watching, I like rewarding myself every few hundred words with a coffee I won’t have to make or wash up after. I write a lot longhand on park benches. I can’t do any editing on a screen: I have to print everything out, cut it up with a scalpel and stick it back together with Pritt Stick.
I try never to write in bed; actually I try never to have my laptop upstairs at all if I can help it. I have a little countertop desk in my kitchen, with an IKEA trolley underneath it where I keep all my papers. I have a million post-its above my desk, lots of paint swatches, random bits of poems and a huge calendar that my flatmate insists we update regularly. (She is sick of me missing meetings.) I usually have flowers. The artist Fiona Gibson recently did this painting of my desk, as part of her series of authors’ desks, and I love it.
Which of your recipes has received the most interest and why do you think that is?
Lockdown Cookies! They used to be called Paris cookies, and are at the back of my book in the sweet stuff section...but then lockdown happened and suddenly everyone was making them. I think it’s because they are almost always a very, very easy win. Plus kids can do it, plus they don’t need anything special, plus they are pretty flexible.
We loved the tips you share at the front of your book. In a world where many women are feeling stretched, do you have any tips for our audience on how to relax?
No laptops in bed! Fairy lights on every surface! Do the washing up before you go to bed! It feels like it’s going to be better if you leave it until the morning but it isn’t, it never is, and I can tell you for certain that because I am doing this interview instead of tackling last night’s washing up. I would be so much more relaxed right now if I had done the washing up last night instead of this morning. For me, having an extremely calm bedroom is vital: weirdly, for a very colourful person, I have almost no colour in my room at all. The rest of our house is teal and gold and hot pink and orange and emerald green, full of books and stuff and chaos and joy, but my room is white and grey with almost no clutter. I have a lot of baths. Badaedas bath stuff, for vintage green cleanliness. Tangle Teezers for hair, because knotty hair has dogged me my whole life. Lately we’ve given in and bought a lot of fancy ready meals (to avoid the washing up problem). Getting the cat has been very soothing, too, although he is himself not a particularly soothing presence. (FEED ME, he says, FEED ME AND LET ME BITE YOUR FEET.)
The main thing for me, actually, is walking every day. I walk about 5-10km every day. Even before Covid, I didn’t love public transport, and I don’t drive, so I have always walked everywhere. Listening to the city- noticing people, noticing nature, noticing the river- makes me feel like I’m part of the world, like I’m connected to everything. Which helps.
Where in the world makes you feel most happy and relaxed?
There is this house by the sea where we sometimes go and stay: it is literally on the edge of a cliff, a long walk from the nearest station and a fair way from the nearest road. We do a lot of jigsaws, drink a million cups of tea, read a million thrillers and very occasionally have a very cold swim in the Irish Sea. I miss it constantly and can’t wait to go back. Other than that, my best friend’s sofa, my grandparents’ kitchen and my friend Sarah’s perfectly proportioned bath tub.
Quick fire questions:
Top of your 2021 reading list? I was in a real rut for ages of only rereading romance novels (Jill Mansell’s entire back catalogue, Jasmine Guillory, Talia Hibbert) and YA romance about teens in small-town America (Becky Albertalli, Brigid Kemmerer, Aisha Saeed). Which are my favourite things ever. But I thought I also ought to try some new stuff and it’s paying off: I just finished Detransition, Baby, by Torrey Peters, which I loved so much I’ve bought multiple copies. I’m currently reading The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, which is great; and The Girls by Emma Cline which I’m enjoying too. Also, I’ve bought myself the new collected letters of Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf, which I have so many feelings about that I can’t really process the idea that anyone except me has ever read them (let alone been allowed to collect them), but they are obviously perfect. Oh, you said quick fire. Sorry.
Favourite music? We just bought a light-up disco ball that moves in time to the music. Blue/green sleepy underwater disco to Max Richter’s Sleep album and a lot of Bach; red/blue/green big time disco to Taylor Swift (Gorgeous, please). Nina Simone for a Saturday morning.
Favourite podcast? I just started listening to The Log Books last night and couldn’t switch it off. It’s an incredible dive into Britain’s LGBT+ history, told through the real life logbooks of a telephone helpline from the seventies right up to today. I cried a lot.
Pyjamas or nightshirts? Or neither? Pyjamas, and then different pyjamas for wearing in the daytime. I like a structured pyjama for a weekend lounge, a yoga-pant-thermal-long-sleeved-vest for daytime work-from-home, and a variety of flannel-and-fleece options for actually sleeping in.
Bedtime routine? Work until seven, dinner at eight, telly until ten, cup of tea, very hot bath, no screens upstairs.
Thank you Ela
Finally - to get 20% off Midnight Chicken, go to Bloomsbury.com add to your basket and use the code MIDNIGHT20 at the checkout.
We have noticed that only hardback is currently in stock - but the Bloomsbury team have reassured us that the link will last so there is no rush and you don't need to panic if you want to wait for the paperback!